York County details lack of internal controls in post-election report to state

David Weissman
York Dispatch
Nikki Suchanic, director of the county's elections department

York County's voting machine programming error was the result of a failure to establish and execute proper internal controls, according to a post-election report submitted to the state.

A technical oversight by the county's elections department allowed a single voter to cast multiple votes for a single candidate during the Nov. 7 general election in certain races where more than one candidate was elected.

The Pennsylvania Department of State directed the county to review and explain the issue to them, which county solicitor Glenn Smith did in a report submitted Nov. 27.

The report begins by explaining that Dale Dalton, a county elections employee, has prepared and installed the programming for every election between 2004 and 2016 after he was trained by Dominion Voting, a third-party vendor.

Dominion acquired Sequoia Voting Systems, the manufacturer of York County's machines, in 2010.

With Dalton planning to retire at the end of 2017, Nikki Suchanic, director of the county's elections department, decided to program the machines for the 2017 primary election with supervision and assistance from Dalton, the report states.

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After the primary election was conducted without any issues, Suchanic programmed the machines for the 2017 general election during the week of Oct. 9, but without supervision or assistance from Dalton, according to the report.

Suchanic tested the ballots before the machines were distributed to the polling sites without identifying any issues, the report states, until the morning before Election Day, when she discovered the double-vote issue while fixing a separate programming error in Glen Rock.

Smith wrote in his report that Suchanic then met with him and Joseph Sassano, director of the county's IT department, and they all came to the conclusion that there was not enough time to correct and redistribute the programming before the polls opened.

A lengthy discussion ensued with Smith, Suchanic, Sassano, the county commissioners, county administrator Mark Derr and county spokesman Mark Walters to develop a plan of action, the report states, and the decision was made to distribute signs to polling places informing voters of the issue and that they were not allowed to vote for the same candidate twice.

Smith added in his report that his office later learned that those signs were either not delivered or were posted without explanation at several precincts. Suchanic had distributed those signs to "volunteer rovers" to deliver to various polling places, the report states.

"My office is in the process of investigating this breakdown and will supplement this report," Smith wrote. "Preliminarily, it would appear that no internal control was in place to confirm the rovers completed their task of delivering and posting the signage."

County volunteers and an independent auditing firm later tallied up the instances where a single voter cast two votes for the same candidate — referred to as an "over vote" — and found about 2,900 such incidences in nine contested races.

West York: Smith, as he announced during a public election board meeting, wrote in his report that "it was determined that no contest was negatively affected by the over vote."

A review of over vote totals, however, indicated that the West York Borough Council race might have been affected, with incumbent councilwoman Shelley Metzler trailing fourth-place finisher Wayne Leedy by just nine votes.

More:West York councilwoman to challenge results of election marred by oversight

More:York County commissioners certify unchallenged election results

The county's review found a total of 32 over votes cast for fellow incumbent council members Brian Wilson and Mary Wagner, both of whom won re-election regardless of those extra votes.

Metzler told The York Dispatch she planned to challenge the election results, but she did not file any such challenge, and the county finalized the certification of its results on Nov. 27.

Metzler has not responded to requests for comment since that certification.

Walters pointed out that there's no guarantee any of the over votes cast for Wilson or Wagner would have gone to Metzler if the machines were operating properly.

Smith finished his report by pointing out changes that will be or are currently occurring to prevent similar issues in the future.

Suchanic contacted Dominion Voting to request that it prepare and verify the accuracy of programming for elections. She has been directed to prepare internal controls and pre-election testing protocols to verify that programming. She has been directed to prepare internal controls to confirm and verify completion of tasks by election volunteers, and she has been directed to review all internal controls and protocols to identify the need for any other best practices, according to the report.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.