ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A Lehigh County elections judge is facing misdemeanor charges related to the Pennsylvania primary on June 2.
Everett Bickford, who prefers to go by Erika, was charged Monday with insertion and alteration of entries in documents, and prying into ballots, both violations of state election law, according to a news release from the Lehigh County district attorney's office.
District Attorney Jim Martin says Bickford colored in or darkened bubbles on about 30 ballots, and trimmed some so they would fit in the machine. However, Martin said it cannot be determined beyond a reasonable doubt that Bickford altered or changed a vote to favor one of the candidates.
The charges stem from the primary race to pick the Democratic candidate to represent Pennsylvania's 22nd District. Enid Santiago, who lost to incumbent Pete Schweyer by 55 votes, raised concerns about voter fraud, claiming Bickford tampered with votes in favor of Schweyer.
Santiago raised her concerns to the Lehigh County Board of Elections, which held a public hearing in July, Martin said.
The board found credible evidence of fraud, and asked Martin and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro to investigate.
Bickford told investigators she darkened some of the ballots so the machine could read them better and trimmed some so they would fit in the machine, but said she did not alter any votes.
County Elections Clerk Tim Benyo said he was at the poll center in the Lehigh County Government Center in Allentown on June 2, and noticed Bickford darkening in some ballots, Martin said. Benyo told Bickford to stop and said she wasn't allowed to do that, officials said.
Elections officials certified the results on June 22.
Detectives examined all the ballots from the 3rd Ward of Allentown and found no evidence of tampering, double votes or "spoiled" ballots, Martin said.
Bickford turned herself in to detectives Monday on the charges, and has been released on her own recognizance, officials said.
County Executive Phil Armstrong, who is a member of the Lehigh County Elections Board, said that since Bickford is an elected official, she can maintain her position unless she is impeached or found guilty. The county will have extra eyes at her polling location on November 3.
District Attorney Jim Martin said he would be willing to consider ARD, a first time offender's program, for Bickford if she agreed to resign.
Bickford said she will not resign, because she says that would be an admission of guilt. She said she is working on getting an attorney.
"I really didn't feel I did anything wrong because we had technical problems with machines," she said.
She said had she altered any votes, the machine would have rejected the ballot.