York County ready to certify election amid criticism of mail-in ballot procedures

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

As York County officials continue to work on finalizing the results of last week's election, controversy has emerged surrounding allegedly uncounted mail-in ballots.

Democrats say hundreds of mail-in ballots should be counted. County officials, however, say there's reasons why those ballots are invalid.

Of course, York County Elections has had its share of controversies in the past. That includes earlier this year, when some polling locations ran out of ballots during the primary election.

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An investigation led to the demotion of Elections Director Steve Ulrich, who is now a deputy director of the department. York County is currently searching for a new director, who would be the third since former director Nikki Suchanic left in 2020.

Further complicating matters: Several races are extremely close, including the hotly contested Central York school board race, and write-in votes are still being counted in South Western School District.

Votes must be certified with the state by Nov. 22.

"The election law doesn't expressly mandate or prohibit ballot curing, so it becomes an county election board's decision ultimately," county spokesman Mark Walters said. "Some counties cure, some don't." 

Curing allows for elections offices to contact voters who send in mail-in ballots that are not in the secrecy envelope or have not been signed or dated, giving the voters a chance to either go to the office to fix the problem or vote at their polling place on Election Day using a provisional ballot.

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Walters said late Thursday afternoon that the elections office — with employees working on Veterans Day, a county holiday — had finished processing approximately 1,700 mail-in ballots with write-in votes.

Those results are set to be posted Friday in anticipation of initial certification at a meeting of the Board of Elections on Monday.

But Democrats have been urging voters to pressure the Board of Commissioners about mail-in ballots that were not counted. In the wake of Election Day, the Democratic Party of York County posted on Facebook a plea for voters to call the York County Commissioners.

"Tonight there are hundreds of uncounted ballots at the York County Administrative Center," the post reads. "For whatever reason, these ballots may never be voted simply because of two of the three County Commissioners." 

A post by the Democratic Party of York County encouraging voters to call the commissioners and ensure certain mail-in ballots are counted.

The post speculated that the votes weren't counted because they may be so-called naked ballots, where a voter forgets to place the envelope in its security envelope before mailing it in or that it was not dated. 

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The post also criticizes York County's handling of mail-in ballots that come in with errors.

"When do York County officials begin to contact voters with mail-in ballot or absentee ballot issues? Election Day," the post reads. "When it is already too late in many cases for a voter to fix the issue or to even vote at the polling place with a provisional ballot." 

It ends by encouraging voters to contact President Commissioner Julie Wheeler and Commissioner Ron Smith, both Republicans.

The county Republican Party, meanwhile, issued a statement of its own with accusations of socialism while misspelling the name of Gov. Tom Wolf, who does not personally have any involvement in York County's elections procedures.

A post by the York GOP firing back at the Democratic Party of York County's post encouraging voters to call the commissioners.

In a written statement, Wheeler and Smith explained why certain ballots may not be counted. They noted that every ballot received by the county is date-stamped on the day it's received.

"In order to be fair to every voter, we need to ensure that we treat each person equally," Wheeler and Smith's statement reads. "We are not able to notify an individual who drops off their vote by mail on election day, or is received via the USPS on election day, that their ballot is not signed."

If the declaration envelope is signed and the ballot is in a secrecy envelope, the pair said, those votes will be recorded. Without a secrecy envelope or a signature on the declaration envelope, those ballots are rejected.

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County Democratic Chair Chad Baker, after the Facebook post, told The York Dispatch that ballots missing signatures shouldn't be counted. However, he argued that the county should inform voters with flawed ballots before Election Day.

"As far as the security envelope," he said, "you can clearly tell the difference in weight when these come in, and the commissioners could have easily contacted voters weeks in advance to correct this error."

Commissioner Doug Hoke, the lone Democrat on the panel, said he's confident in the existing process.

"I think we hit a happy medium of people that went in and did provisional ballots and thought they might not be counted on Election Day," he said. "I think they're being reviewed right now, so if there's any questions I know the Election Board will get together and look at it." 

Matt Enright can be reached via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.