Pennsylvania County Election Officials to Sit Out House Hearing on Midterm Ballot Paper Shortage

by Natalia Mittelstadt


The House Administration Committee is holding a hearing on Tuesday to investigate a ballot paper shortage that marred the midterm election in Luzerne County, Pa., but three key county election officials have declined invitations to testify.

On the morning of Election Day 2022, multiple precincts in Luzerne County experienced ballot paper shortages, which resulted in long lines, the distribution of provisional ballots to some voters, a judge’s order to extend voting hours until 10 p.m. and the delayed certification of the election by the county elections board.

Currently, the county district attorney is conducting an investigation into the paper shortage.

The House committee hearing, titled “2022 Midterms Look Back Series: Government Voter Suppression in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania,” “will examine how a severe shortage of available Election Day ballots provided by Luzerne County effectively closed polling locations and prevented thousands of Pennsylvanians from exercising their right to vote in the 2022 midterm election,” according to the committee’s website.

Three county officials who were invited to testify have chosen not to attend after the county law office recommended not attending due to the ongoing investigation.

County Deputy Election Director Beth Gilbert, Election Board Chairwoman Denise Williams, and County Council Chairwoman Kendra Radle were the three county officials who declined the invitation to testify.

Gilbert said she “would be more than happy to comply with any requests for testimony after the upcoming election.” Williams explained that she wouldn’t be comfortable providing only a written statement without being available to answer questions, and that the invitation requested both written and oral testimony. Radle said she won’t provide a written report and that county council members aren’t directly involved in election oversight.

County acting Manager Brian Swetz responded last week to the reports of county officials being invited to testify at the hearing.

“While it is understandable that the Committee on House Administration wants to hold a hearing on our mishap, it would be preferable if the hearing were conducted after the Luzerne County District Attorney’s report has been finalized,” Swetz said.

He added that each official who was invited could decide whether to participate but that it would be preferable if they did so via a written response while waiting to testify in person, if necessary, until after the May primary election.

“While it’s disappointing that after months they will still leave voters in the dark, the committee will move forward with the hearing in an effort to get answers,” said Administration Committee Chairman Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wisc.). “We have information from actual voters who were impacted by this election disaster and they deserve to be heard. With another election just around the corner, we need to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Three other officials — Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary of State for Elections and Commissions Jonathan Marks, Commissioner of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission Don Palmer, and a person temporarily directing the state’s Bureau of Election Security and Testing — were also invited to testify before the committee.

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), who partially represents Luzerne County, also won’t testify at the committee hearing. Cartwright defeated Republican Jim Bognet in the 2022 election, but in the portion of Luzerne located in his district, he lost by 2 percentage points.

Bognet, however, will testify at the hearing.

“Well of course we need an investigation,” Cartwright said. “A hearing in Washington is good, but it probably ought to wait until the actual investigation is complete. Luzerne County has a very capable DA, and he is conducting that investigation.”

The Democrat congressman took issue with the title of the hearing.

“What we should not do is name the hearing beforehand ‘Government Voter Suppression’ and grandstand about it without any basis for such a thing,” he said.

Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.), who represents about half of Luzerne County but is not a member of the Administration Committee, will attend the hearing to ask questions.

“There were a lot of red flags in several counties in the country,” Meuser said. “Luzerne County was one big red flag.”

The ballot paper shortage couldn’t “be just swept under the rug,” he added. “Republicans and Democrats need election security and that is what this is all about.”

“Nobody was fired and nobody was even rebuked,” Meuser also noted. “This was a high level of incompetence.”

Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce (R) said that every detective in his office is participating in the investigation into the ballot paper shortage in some capacity and hundreds of witnesses are being interviewed, including polling place workers, voters, and election bureau workers.

Sanguedolce said that he cannot provide a report release date because of how much coordination is required between everyone who is working on it, but that his office will review the results of the investigation with county officials before they are released.

The county has had numerous issues conducting elections in recent years, including nine military ballots that were incorrectly discarded in the 2020 presidential election, Republican ballots mistakenly labeled Democratic in the 2021 state primary election, and mail ballots sent out late in the November 2021 state general election.

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Natalia Mittelstadt graduated from Regent University with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Communication Studies and Government.
Photo “Election Voting Ballot” by Edmond Dantès.




Reprinted with permission from Just the News

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