York County rejects attempt at banning electronic voting machines

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

Despite lobbying from those who believe without basis that there is widespread election fraud and that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, an attempt to place a question about electronic voting machines on the ballot failed Wednesday night.

A petition calling for a referendum on the use of electronic voting machines in York County was rejected unanimously by the Board of Elections.

The vote formally ratified the decision of the Elections Department to reject the petition. The petition, which required over 8,600 signatures, received 7,308, according to elections director Julie Haertsch. That's 8.4% of the total number of voters during the November 2021 general election; the petition must be signed by 10% of the total number of voters in the previous election to make it to the ballot.

"It's also noteworthy to mention, just a quick look while we were counting up signatures, we noted that there were quite a few fatal flaws, so if this petition was challenged that they would be stricken," Haertsch said.

More:Earlier referendum attempted to ban electronic voting machines in Jacobus

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While Haertsch did not give specifics about what fatal flaws were present in the petition after the meeting, she did give an example of what a fatal flaw might be. Signatures have to be consecutive; for example, if a batch of signatures came on Feb. 1, the petition cannot have a consecutive batch of signatures from Feb. 10 and then go back to signatures collected on Feb. 1.

Public comment during both the York County Board of Commissioners meeting and the Board of Elections meeting that followed were dominated by supporters of the referendum, who cited conspiracy theories and disproven evidence while urging the commissioners to put the item on the November 2022 general election ballot despite the petition's failure.

"I, like the rest of them, are very disappointed that you are ignoring our signatures," said Angela Kline, of Dover Township. "But my disappointment does not mean we're defeated. We're not finished."

Thirteen speakers in total urged the county to put the question on the ballot regardless of the failure, saying that the people were crying out for something to be done about electronic voting machines.

"We the people are your customers," said Kimberly Stauffer, of York Township. "I can't believe that you people believe that there are no issues with these electronic voting machines. It's unfathomable. ... We the people will not go away."

A previous attempt at a referendum that would have placed the question only on ballots for Jacobus received enough signatures but was rejected by the Board of Elections.

In a letter about the decision, solicitor Michèlle Pokrifka cited a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision, Kuznik v. Westmoreland County Board of Commissioners in 2006, as legal justification for the rejection. 

"The Supreme Court determined that local referendums on the continued use of an electronic voting system are no longer a valid option in municipalities because they were overruled by the higher authority of the requirements of the federal HAVA and the state constitutional law," Pokrikfa says in the letter.

Commissioner Doug Hoke flatly rejected the idea of putting the referendum on the ballot when asked.

"This is democracy in action. People come in, we listen to them, take their concerns," Hoke said.

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Commissioner Ron Smith said he would have placed it on the ballot if the petitioners had gotten enough signatures.

"I wish they'd have gotten the requisite number of signatures by law, and I would gladly have put this on the ballot to let the courts decide," Smith said.

President Commissioner Julie Wheeler did not commit to Smith's assertion, but she said the discussion would be different if the petitioners had reached the threshold needed.

"We would've been able to have a discussion if they had enough signatures," Wheeler said.

Smith predicted that the discussion on electronic voting machines would continue during every election that the county has. It's either got to be changed in state law or it has to be changed in the court system, he said.

"It's going to come to a head at some point in time," he said.

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