Administrative election errors rise as Pa. counties struggle to keep voting officials

This article is made possible through Spotlight PA’s collaboration with Votebeat, a nonpartisan news organization covering local election administration and voting. This article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy.

In mid-October, Greene County, in southwest Pennsylvania, notified voters that some mail ballots for the November election listed two races for magisterial district judges, though voters were only supposed to be electing one.

Then, the county realized some mail ballots listed school board candidates in the wrong order.

And just days before the election, officials in Greene County found yet another error. Mail ballots said “vote for not more than three” candidates in the county commissioner race — potentially disenfranchising voters, since in reality, they were only supposed to choose two candidates.

Greene County’s string of errors was the most for a single county this year, but it had plenty of company. On or before Election Day for the November municipal election, 12 counties reported 16 errors, more than double the number of errors from any other election since 2019.

Election experts, as well as the Department of State, agree the increase is linked to turnover and loss of experience at local election offices.

Counties in Pennsylvania have been steadily reporting more election administration errors impacting voters’ ballots with each election since 2019, an analysis by Votebeat and Spotlight PA of data collected by the news organizations and the Open Source Election Technology Institute has found.

The errors have the potential to affect voters’ trust in elections ahead of what is expected to be a highly contentious presidential election.

At a state Senate hearing this month, state Sen. Pat Stefano (R., Fayette) asked Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt about the numerous errors, saying they “send a ripple through our faith in the system.”

“It does,” Schmidt responded. “These are all human errors that occurred. They occur most frequently, overwhelmingly, when you have new election administrators.”

Genya Coulter, senior director of stakeholder relations at the Open Source Election Technology Institute, began collecting reports of mail and in-person ballot-printing errors in 2022 after noticing an increase in news stories about such mistakes. Votebeat and Spotlight PA supplemented her data with additional incidents of election administration errors found in news reports to track the trend.

  • December 20, 2023
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