A glimpse inside York County's elections process — and 21 contested ballots

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

Nobody knows what's inside the 21 ballots.

They simply reflect the choices of 21 York County residents who, for various reasons, had their provisional votes challenged in what has turned out to be a hotly contested primary election.

Initially, the attorney for U.S. Senate candidate and former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick — Tim Horstmann — challenged many of the ballots. Jared Mellot, who represented the campaign of TV personality Mehmet Oz, stood mute.

This is one election where it's possible that every vote matters.

Of 1.3 million ballots cast statewide, just 922 votes separated the two GOP hopefuls. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court has stepped in to dictate which outstanding ballots can be counted.

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York County has moved forward with its part of the electoral process, including the consideration of 21 provisional ballots. The larger recount, meanwhile, is expected to be completed by the end of the week.

The reasons for the challenged ballots varied. Three rejected ballots all had the same problem: the residents voted in the wrong political party's primary. Pennsylvania law requires that voters be registered for their respective party to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primaries.

FILE - Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidates David McCormick, left, and Mehmet Oz during campaign appearances in May 2022 in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/File)

Otherwise, problems for the challenged ballots ranged from lacking a signature from the precinct's election official to lacking a signature from the voter in question in certain fields.

The only race still to be determined is the U.S. Senate Republican primary between McCormick and Oz. A recount in that race is still being completed by York County; in the last results, Oz had beaten McCormick by over 2,000 votes.

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Horstmann's argument in most cases was that the lack of signature or other information doomed the ballot to be rejected. 

"We think it's abundantly clear the affidavit is required to have that voter go on record as to what municipality they come from," he said of the first ballot he challenged. That ballot lacked the voter's municipality. "We think that's a fatal flaw if you don't include all the information that is specifically required for an affidavit." 

York County's solicitor, Michelle Pokrifka, disagreed. She noted the elections office is responsible for determining eligibility, including whether the voter lives in the county.

"Although he may have omitted his municipality, it is the elections office requirement that they deem him eligible to vote, which they did," she said. 

After the first few ballots, the process hastened as reasons for ballot challenges were repeated. Horstmann's challenges boiled down to "Nothing further to add," and in the end, he sat as most of the ballots were accepted.

As the last ballot — coincidentally enough, from a voter with the last name of York — came up for consideration, Horstmann requested the county allow the McCormick campaign the two-day process to potentially file an appeal against the accepted ballots.

In response, President Commissioner Julie Wheeler said the ballots would not be opened until that two-day process had passed. Horstmann declined to say if the campaign would appeal the board's decisions.

In the end, the York County Board of Elections voted to accept 18 of the 21 challenged ballots. 

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If the ballots are not appealed, the 18 accepted ballots would join the already accepted 264 provisional ballots that had been approved by the board last week. That's a total of 282 provisional ballots accepted, with 120 rejected.

Wednesday night's meeting was another step in the process of certifying the 2022 primary results. As of Thursday, a meeting for final certification is set for June 6 at noon.

York City resident Ryan Supler complimented the Board of Elections on accepting the challenged ballots, though he also advocated for improving the training process for those working for elections.

"I think it's important we count every vote," Supler said.

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.