Ballot printing issues in Lancaster County will lead to delayed primary results

Teresa Boeckel
Erie Times-News

It will take several days for Lancaster County to count all of its mail ballots because many of them will not scan, officials announced at a news conference Tuesday.

Elections officials found Tuesday morning that many of the mail ballots would not scan because they contained the wrong identification code, according to a news release. It's a similar problem that the county faced in the 2021 primary with a different mail ballot vendor, which the county fired.

As of early Tuesday morning, the office had received more than 21,000 completed mail ballots, said Christa L. Miller, chief registrar/chief clerk of elections. Only about a third were able to be scanned as of earlier Tuesday. No problems had been reported at the polls, officials said.

Mail-in and dropbox ballots are counted, May 19, 2021, at the Erie County Voter Registration Office at the Erie County Courthouse.

To fix the issue, the elections staff will re-mark the affected mail ballots so they can be scanned into the scanner, but it will take longer than normal, Lancaster County Vice Chairman Commissioner Joshua G. Parsons said.

The last time this happened, Miller said, it took about four days.

"We'll do it as fast as possible, but our main priority is accuracy and not how fast we can do something," Miller said.

A Pennsylvania Department of State spokesperson said they are not aware of any other counties reporting this problem. Lancaster County has the sixth-largest population in the state.

Teams will hand mark new ballots, Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman said during a news conference after the polls closed. One will read off the original ballot and another will mark the new ballot. An observer will ensure that the remarked ballot is accurate.

She anticipated that the counting will take days, and the Department of State plans to follow up with the county on Wednesday.

Lancaster County commissioners − chairman Ray D'Agostino and vice chairman Joshua G. Parsons − explained the test ballots from the vendor had scanned fine. But it appears that the vendor printed the ballots from different files, resulting in the problem.

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Counties cannot open any ballots received from voters before 7 a.m. on election day, which is why the problem wasn't discovered until Tuesday morning.

The vendor, NPC, has taken responsibility for the error, the commissioners said.

The commissioners said they don't have an estimate on how much this will cost the county. An investigation will be done.

Both the Democratic and Republican committee chairs in the county were consulted in coming up with a resolution to the problem, the commissioners said.

The commissioners said the problem with the mail ballots has not been unique to Lancaster County and highlights the need to repeal Act 77.

"Act 77 is untenable for us as counties to continue to work in elections and not have problems like this," D'Agostino said.

Chapman said this is not a problem with Act 77. Voters in Pennsylvania have embraced mail-in voting.

"This is an isolated incident so it's unfair to blame this incident on Act 77," she said.

Berks County extends polling hours after problems

State Rep. Manuel Guzman, D-Berks County, reported that he experienced a substantial delay while casting a ballot Tuesday morning because poll workers had not been properly trained on the new voting machines. 

“When I went to cast my ballot today, what should have been a quick, simple process turned into a multi-hour ordeal,” Guzman said in a news release. “A simple mistake took more than an hour and the personal intervention of the county election director to fix. Workers were not trained on the new voting machines and the county provided no paper ballots to backup any potential problems - in fact ballots are only being distributed today, hours after the polls opened.”

“I’m not worried about me; I’m worried about the voter making time to be heard who has to get to work or has to get their kids to school. People don’t have time to throw away on dealing with the failures of the county election officials who didn’t make sure the poll workers knew how to operate the voting machines," he said in the release. "The idea we might have people walk away from their right to be heard is unacceptable. It’s voter suppression through incompetence at the top.”

Chapman said a problem arose with the new electronic poll books. Some polls opened late, and about two dozen polling places had lines. The precincts worked from a backup paper book instead, and the local court ruled that polls would remain open until  9 p.m.

Voters who arrived at the polling station after 8 p.m. − but before 9 p.m. − were to be given a provisional ballot as required under law, according to the services' post on Facebook.

Mail ballots needed to be returned to the county's mailboxes by 8 p.m.

Low on ballots in Allegheny County

Some polling places ran low on ballots, Chapman said during a news conference after the polls closed.

Allegheny County delivered ballots to those precincts, and voting continued uninterrupted, she said.