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EDITORIAL: Don’t give Trump ballot ammo, Pa.

York Dispatch editorial board
FILE - In this May 28, 2020, file photo, mail-in primary election ballots are processed at the Chester County Voter Services office in West Chester, Pa. With concerns rising in Pennsylvania that tens of thousands of mail-in ballots will be discarded in the presidential election over technicalities, officials in the battleground state told counties that they aren't allowed to reject a ballot solely because an election official believes a signature doesn't match the signature in the voter’s file. 
 (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

“Pennsylvania risks becoming center of election chaos,” blared a headline in The Hill over the weekend.

Pennsylvania may or — more likely — may not be the center, but one thing’s for sure: There will be election chaos. President Trump will make sure of it.

That’s why the president was so quick to jump on the disclosure that federal officials are investigating whether nine military ballots — seven of which purportedly were in support of Trump — were improperly opened and discarded in Luzerne County last week.

“These ballots are a horror show,” Trump complained on — where else — Fox News, where he himself disclosed the investigation.

“They found six ballots in an office yesterday in a garbage can,” he said in a radio interview with Brian Kilmeade. “They were Trump ballots — eight ballots in an office yesterday.”

Never mind that he can’t keep the number straight from one sentence to the next, who thought the president needed to be bothered about a handful of possible mishandled ballots?

Tattle-tale William Barr, that’s who. The attorney general-in-name-only reportedly briefed Trump on the development, giving him a little ammo for his daily blasts at the integrity of America’s electoral system and, especially, mail-in balloting.

Never mind that there is no legitimacy to Trump’s ravings about mail-in voting, the president fabricates his own reality. But, as his personal attorney-in-all-but-name Barr knew, he’ll welcome any minor gaffe or appearance of impropriety to bolster his arguments.

And by the way, if you thought it odd that the FBI and U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania David Freed would publicly confirm this measly, preliminary investigation, you’re not alone. Freed claimed he went public, “based on the limited amount of time before the general election and the vital public importance of these issues.”

If that statement were an episode of “Sesame Street,” it would be brought to you by the letters “b” and “s.” The reasons for the disclosure — much like, to an uncomfortable degree, way too many other actions by what are supposed to be non-partisan federal agencies — were entirely political.

Worth noting: it was Luzerne County elections officials who uncovered the potential mishandling of the ballots and alerted federal officials. And it’s possible the ballots were rejected owing to a recent state Supreme Court ruling in favor of Trump and the GOP that ballots have to be mailed in so-called secrecy envelopes (the investigation continues). Bottom line: county officials acted swiftly and decisively.

“In a statement Friday provided by Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri, the county said a temporary contractor ‘incorrectly discarded into the office trash’ some mail-in ballots and was subsequently dismissed,” reported the Wall Street Journal.

Not for nothing, but Luzerne County went for Trump by 20 points in 2016, so it would seem an unlikely locale for intentional attempts to manipulate the outcome.

That Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican majorities in the state legislature are still negotiating over some aspects of how the state’s elections will proceed is worrisome enough. That a Trump campaign lawsuit seeking to outlaw drop-boxes and other collection methods for ballots remains active is worse.

But Trump’s mountain-out-of-a-molehill response to the Luzerne County hiccup ought to remind state elections officials that they'll need to be especially mindful of following all policies and protocols this election season. To do otherwise is to give the Trump campaign grounds — no matter how flimsy — to amplify their post-election playbook: claim chicanery, sow chaos and undermine public confidence in the election results.