York County plans hand count of November ballots after meeting with audit group

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York County officials announced a plan Wednesday to hand count ballots from three random precincts in the upcoming Nov. 8 election after meeting with a group that has spread misinformation about the 2020 election.

President Commissioner Julie Wheeler said the decision was made after a county meeting with Audit the Vote PA, a group that purports to fight for election integrity. The same group has organized events featuring current Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Doug Mastriano.

“It’s really as a courtesy; it doesn’t change anything,” Wheeler said. “If we want to audit the work we do, that is certainly within our purview. We’re doing a hand count audit of some precincts, so that’s certainly well within the Election Code.”

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Wheeler said the meeting with Audit the Vote PA happened earlier this month. She could not provide specifics about how the hand counts would be randomized or who would do the counting. Wheeler said it was too soon and those details were still being worked out.

President of the York County Board of Elections Julie Wheeler poses with scanned mail-in ballots stored in a room at the York County Administration Center Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. The room is equipped with a fire suppression system. Bill Kalina photo

Such hand counts have been pushed by groups of voters who believe false claims of fraud in the 2020 election, leading to a number of attempts to force the hand counting of ballots nationwide. In August, a federal judge ruled against an attempt to require hand counting in Arizona's upcoming election.

"Every election must be checked in a robust and scientific way," said Marian Schneider, senior voting rights council for the American Civil Liberties Union's Pennsylvania chapter. "This isn't it."

Schneider said Pennsylvania counties that have previously conducted hand counts of the 2020 election found no discrepancies.

"However, when the results are confirmed by hand counting these three precincts," she said, "if it satisfies those who would destroy our democracy, then it's worth it."

Representatives from Audit the Vote PA could not be reached for comment. The York County GOP and the Democratic Party of York did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

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Earlier this year, Audit the Vote PA was involved in an effort to remove York County's electronic voting machines. Ultimately, that attempt failed to gather the nearly 9,000 signatures necessary to bring the issue before York County voters.

That referendum attempt raised unsubstantiated claims related to the county's Dominion Voting Systems machines.

York County has been using Dominion machines exclusively since 2019. It currently has 180 Election Day machines that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as 245 other Election Day machines and six high-speed scanners. Several of the machines won't be deployed come Nov. 8 but instead will serve as backups.

In the days after the 2020 election, Wheeler issued a statement saying the county hadn't had any issues with the Dominion voting machines and that claims about votes being switched are "unsubstantiated."

Dominion voting machines have repeatedly been tested across the country in response to fraud allegations by 2020 election deniers. So far, those claims have never been substantiated.

In El Paso County, Colorado, for example, a test of the county’s equipment — required by law before a recount — found no issues, county officials and Dominion Voting Systems told The Associated Press.

This article was updated to include comment from Marian Schneider, senior voting rights council for the American Civil Liberties Union's Pennsylvania chapter.