York County certifies vote amid legal challenge demanding recount

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York County officials certified the county's election results Monday after a judge rejected a petition seeking to recount votes cast at a polling place in Spring Garden Township.

Three residents filed a petition to recount votes cast in the race for governor and U.S. senator, alleging fraud and demanding a hand recount — part of a growing nationwide trend of such challenges that have emerged in recent elections.

Prior to the certification this week, Common Pleas Judge Matthew Menges denied the petition because the residents did not offer evidence to prove their claims. In his opinion, Menges also noted that the petition only targeted a single precinct.

The petitioners did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

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Menges wrote that a recount would have to happen in every precinct where votes were cast for governor and U.S. senator. An exception would only be made if there was specific proof of fraud committed, he said.

Moreover, as York County Solicitor Michèlle Pokrifka wrote in a Nov. 23 filing opposing the petitioners, one of the petitioners — Michael King — failed to provide the correct residential address in his petition, which would cause that filing to be stricken and the petition to fail to have the requisite number of petitioners for a recount.

"Petitioners failed to allege any particular act of fraud or error, nor did they provide any evidence that supports such general allegation of fraud or error," Pokrifka wrote.

The petition and the judge's ultimate rejection came in the middle of York County's certification process, which was finalized Monday afternoon. County officials had already completed a hand count of ballots cast in three randomly selected precincts in Jacobus, West Manchester Township and York City.

York County voters were highly motivated, with the final midterm election results certified Monday reflecting a more than 60% voter turnout — the highest in recent history.

"This is my favorite part of the election," county Elections Director Julie Haertsch said, "because everybody thinks you come out and vote and it's over. But, for us, the work is just beginning."

During a short meeting Monday, the Board of Elections certified the results. In total, the county reported 187,605 votes cast. That means that 60.1% of the county's 311,926 registered voters cast a ballot during the midterm election.

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This year's voter turnout is higher than any of the last four midterm elections. Those turnouts were 54%, 45%, 49% and 47%, respectively.

The one point of contention came from the county's rejection of 74 provisional ballots due to the lack of one or more signatures from poll workers. County Commissioner Doug Hoke, a Democrat, was the lone official who spoke in favor of approving those contested ballots.

"I asked for this to be taken out because I plan on voting against this," Hoke said. "I don't think in my mind it's a reasonable way to disenfranchise somebody who went to the poll, got a provisional ballot and completed their portion correctly."

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In response, President Commissioner Julie Wheeler, who voted with Commissioner Ron Smith to reject the 74 ballots, noted that the statute requires those ballots be rejected.

Haertsch praised the work of elections staff and county staff during her report at the meeting, as well as after the meeting.

"I really appreciate a team that takes the work seriously, and we all worked together to make it happen," she said.

With the approval of the results by the Board of Elections, the county will now submit the certified votes to the Department of State.

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