S. Postal Service (USPS) has come under scrutiny following the disqualification of over a hundred mail-in ballots.
The ballots, despite being postmarked by the required date, were delivered too late to be counted in the previous election due to a significant delay.
According to LancasterOnline, the ballots, all postmarked on October 30th in Harrisburg, sat undelivered for two weeks, thereby missing the 8 p.m. deadline on Election Day, November 7th. Consequently, when they arrived on November 13th, six days too late, election officials were left with no option but to reject them. The exact number of affected ballots remains unconfirmed, with estimates ranging from 100 to 150.
Voters expressed their anger and frustration upon receiving automated messages around November 14th, informing them of the rejection due to the ballots not meeting the delivery deadline. USPS spokesperson Mark Lawrence refrained from detailing the causes of the delay, stating via email, “We are reviewing the processes involved and seeking ways to improve our service.”
The county is now considering alternatives with the downtown Lancaster Post Office to avoid such postal service round trips via Harrisburg. This is particularly important given that mail-in ballots mistakenly took this unnecessary journey despite both facilities being adjacent on West Chestnut Street.
Adding to the confusion, the rejection notices incorrectly stated that the ballots were received on July 18, an issue attributed to a clerical error by Lancaster County staff, according to the Department of State. However, county officials countered this claim, as reported by LancasterOnline.
The news outlet quoted Lancaster County elections director Christa Miller, who said, “That was an error in the mail-in ballot notification system operated by the Pennsylvania Department of State.” She added that county officials relayed the issue to state officials and the issue was corrected.
However, a spokesperson for the Department of State contradicted that claim, stating that the erroneous July 18 date that appeared in notifications was the result of a clerical error by Lancaster County staff. “This was the only county where this discrepancy occurred, and the Department of State has been in contact and remains available to provide additional training to county staff on how to correctly record late-arriving mail ballots,” said DOS Spokesperson Ellen Lyon in an email.
In response to the incident, state officials are also in communication with USPS, seeking clarity and improvement in the postal processing of election mail to prevent a recurrence of such mishaps.
LancasterOnline spoke to four affected voters who received automated messages around November 14th that their ballots had been rejected because they were not delivered by the Election Day cut-off. Three voters who contacted the news outlet said they lost their vote as a result.
Two of the four voters, Suzanne Wood of Manheim Township and Tana Reiff of East Lampeter Township, both described their multiple attempts to get an explanation from USPS employees, only to be handed off to another person or told to call a phone number that nobody picked up.
Tom O’Brien, chair of the Democratic Committee of Lancaster County, said he had not heard about the problem, but he said he will look into it. “I will tell you that I’m going to inquire about it, probably the first thing Monday morning,” he said.
This isn’t the first instance of such problems. The county’s history with mail-in ballots has been fraught with issues, undermining voter confidence. Earlier this year, ahead of the May 16 primary election, nearly 19,000 mail-in voters in Lancaster County were issued corrected ballots following a critical error discovered by the county’s Board of Elections, as reported by FOX43.
The ballots incorrectly instructed voters to choose only one candidate in races where they were supposed to select two, leading to widespread confusion and the need for a swift rectification.
The situation was no less dire last year during the 2022 elections. An error by a ballot-printing company, which serviced several Pennsylvania counties, resulted in thousands of mail-in ballots being unreadable, as reported by PBS.
This issue was particularly severe in Lancaster County, where at least 21,000 mailed ballots were affected. Only a third of these ballots could be scanned properly, forcing election workers into a painstaking process of manually redoing ballots that the machines couldn’t read.
The challenges faced by the county highlight the broader issues surrounding mail-in voting in the United States, where accuracy and timeliness are paramount to maintaining public trust in the electoral system.