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EDITORIAL: County has work cut out to restore faith in elections

The York Dispatch
  • The report states only a single county elections employee was trained to program voting machines.
  • Most managers would likely agree that’s a problem waiting to happen.
  • . When the integrity of our elections is at stake, it’s an unacceptable risk.

York County's report to the state on an Election Day issue that let voters to cast more than one vote in certain races does not instill confidence.

And that’s not a good feeling as we enter a midterm election season that’s shaping up to be a battle for the heart and soul of our country.

A technical oversight by the county's elections department allowed voters to cast multiple votes for a single candidate during the Nov. 7 general election in certain races where more than one candidate was elected.

York County Elections and Voter Registration Director Nikki Suchanic talks to poll workers about the card activator device during a training session at the Red Lion Area Senior Center in Red in 2015. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The Pennsylvania Department of State directed the county to review and explain the issue to them, which county solicitor Glenn Smith did in a Nov. 27 report.

More:York County details lack of internal controls in post-election report to state

More:York County commissioners certify unchallenged election results

More:York County officials say overvotes didn't affect election results, but numbers tell different story

More:York County election recount moving forward ahead of schedule

County officials already had blamed the problem on an error made while programming the electronic voting machines, but the post-mortem notes other missteps that contributed to the mistake and added to the confusion on Election Day.

The report states that a single county elections employee who was trained by Dominion Voting — which owns the manufacturer of York County’s voting machines — programmed the devices for every election between 2004 and 2016.

However, that employee is retiring this year, and Nikki Suchanic, director of the county's elections department, decided to program the machines herself for the 2017 primary election, with assistance from the experienced employee.

The primary went off without a hitch, the report notes, so Suchanic programmed the machines for the 2017 general election during the week of Oct. 9 without the help of her soon-to-be-former employee.

The day before the election, after the machines had been distributed to the polling sites, she discovered the double-vote issue while fixing a different programming error.

Smith wrote that he, Suchanic and Joseph Sassano, director of the county's IT department, met and decided there wasn’t enough time to correct the problem before the polls opened.

After a lengthy discussion that included other county officers, they decided to distribute signs to polling places informing voters of the issue — and that they were not allowed to vote for the same candidate twice.

Yet Smith added in his report he later learned those signs were either not delivered or were posted without explanation at several precincts. Suchanic had distributed those signs to "volunteer rovers" to deliver to various polling places, the report states.

"My office is in the process of investigating this breakdown and will supplement this report," Smith wrote. "Preliminarily, it would appear that no internal control was in place to confirm the rovers completed their task of delivering and posting the signage."

One big question raised by the report: How is it possible only one person was capable of programing voting machines … in the Department of Voting and Elections?

Most managers, in any businesses, would likely agree that’s a problem waiting to happen. When the integrity of our elections is at stake, it’s an unacceptable risk.

The department should have had at least one other staffer ready and able to do the work all along. They certainly should have trained and certified others as soon as they knew the one person who had done the job would be retiring.

It also seems there should have been a better process for testing the voting machines, so a glitch doesn’t leave elections officials flat-footed the day before voting, as happened in this case.

The county’s solution, once the problem was identified, was hardly a good one. Signs notifying voters of the double-vote error might have worked … or they could have been an invitation to mischief-makers.

But even that less-than-desirable fix wasn’t executed properly.

The county is making changes to prevent a similar issue in the future, Smith noted in his report, such as requesting the manufacturer prepare and certify the voting machines before elections.

Suchanic also has been directed to identify the need for any other best practices, according to the report.

We don’t know if these steps will be enough to restore voters’ confidence in York County elections, but they’re a good start.

Hopefully, county officials will regularly update the public — well ahead of the May 15 primary election — as more progress is made.

— Editor's note: This editorial has been corrected to reflect that while only one employee has programmed the voting machines since York County acquired them in 2004, at least one other worker was originally trained by the manufacturer to perform the task.