Election Board Meeting

Ben Herring of Duryea voiced his concern over the election ballot paper shortage at a Luzerne County Council meeting on Nov. 14.

The state Office of Open Records granted an open-records request and ordered Luzerne County to release video footage and surveillance of county buildings related to the Nov. 8 election.

The Dec. 28 decision from the state agency gives the county 30 days to provide the video to the requester, Ben Herring of Duryea. The county is planning an appeal to the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas.

Herring is vice president of the Citizens Advisory of Pennsylvania, a group that began monitoring local school boards in 2021 for adherence to the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions and to defend the rights of students, parents and the taxpayers.

Other open-records requests to the county from Herring were for paper procurement records for the Nov. 8 election and for contracts and payments related to the transportation of election machines.

A shortage of ballot paper needed for voting machines created chaos and controversy at polling places on Nov. 8. District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce has launched an investigation.

Herring said he’s also planning to file an appeal with the Office of Open Records to get Pittston to release video surveillance of the ballot drop box placed at Pittston Memorial Library for the Nov. 8 election.

“Confidence in voting has hit an all-time low,” Herring said.

Herring filed requests for county records on Nov. 16. After Herring filed appeals, the county provided paper procurement records for the Nov. 8 election and contract and payment records related to the transportation of election machines, the Office of Open Records said.

Based on the county records he received, Herring said the county didn’t buy paper for the Nov. 8 election. That was either due to “gross negligence” or “one concerted effort to make a big mistake,” Herring said.

Herring said he is concerned with how county employees sorted and tabulated emergency and provisional ballots and hopes video can provide some answers there. The request was for “digital recordings, videotaped footage and recorded surveillance of Luzerne County official buildings” from Sept. 1 and Nov. 16, and it specifically mentions “locations where election equipment is stored, picked up and received” and “locations where sorting, reviewing, transposing, collecting and counting of official ballots” occurred.

The county claimed the video request was denied under the security exemption of the the Right to Know Law. The law exempts the disclosure of records that create “a reasonable likelihood of endangering the safety or the physical security of a building, public utility, resource, infrastructure, facility or information storage system.”

The Office of Open Records ruled the county failed to provide any evidence “that disclosure would cause the alleged harm” and noted the county “did not provide an attestation to support the exemption.”

Voting machines at county polling places print ballots that must be inserted into a scanning machine at each polling place. Nov. 8 voters unable to cast ballots on machines due to the lack of printer paper had to come back later or cast provisional ballots or emergency ballots.

A judge extended the closing time for all polling places in the county from 8 to 10 p.m., and voters had to use provisional ballots during the additional two hours. A total of 758 provisional ballots were cast countywide during the additional two hours, acting Election Director Beth Gilbert McBride said.

Provisional ballots are typically used when a voter’s registration or qualifications to vote are in question. Emergency ballots are typically used by voters who are registered to vote at a polling place but machines at the polling place are not working.

Emergency ballots are supposed to be counted at polling places on Election Day, but some emergency ballots ended up with the provisional ballots set aside for board scrutiny and were counted as provisional ballots. On Nov. 9, the county had counted 113,143 ballots, and it increased to 117,495 weeks later after provisional ballots were counted.

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Originally published on citizensvoice.com, part of the BLOX Digital Content Exchange.