Multiple printing defects involving more than 20,000 mail-in ballots and questions about how election results are reported online have led to confusion about the outcomes of dozens of races in one of Pennsylvania’s most populous counties three days after Tuesday’s election.
The outcomes of the races to fill seats on at least eight Montgomery County school boards, which initially appeared to have been swept by insurgent Republicans, now are unclear, as are many other local races, according to GOP leaders who spoke to National Review on Thursday.
The voting problems in Montgomery County come after a year of often intense debate over the integrity of U.S. elections and baseless accusations by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was rife with fraud. Republican candidates in Montgomery County, outside of Philadelphia, say these latest issues will likely only lead to more mistrust among voters.
“Not only is it breeding mistrust in the system, but it’s also continuing to further this divide that we’ve been seeing over the last couple of years,” said Jess Bradbury, a Republican candidate for the Methacton school board, whose lead has shrunk as additional ballots have been included. “When you’re doubting the election process, then it’s going to further the mistrust that people have in the elected board to be really advocating for our children and their education.”
The first printing issue became evident in early October, when county elections officials learned that ballots that had printing on only one side were mailed to about 16,000 voters. The ballots should have had printing on both sides. The voters who received the one-sided ballots were mailed new ballots and instructions to destroy the faulty ones.
Julia Vahey, executive director of the Montgomery County Republican Committee, said it appears that some voters still used the one-sided ballots to vote. Elections officials are sequestering the ballots cast by anyone who received one of the bad ballots to see if they returned a one-sided or two-sided ballot, or if they also voted in person. If they voted in person, their mail ballot won’t be counted, she said. If they didn’t vote in person, the mail ballot will be counted.
There also were about 9,000 ballots with another printing issue that makes it so they cannot be read by the county’s ballot scanners, Vahey said. The county is “following an established process for bi-partisan teams to recreate the impacted ballots to make sure every eligible vote is counted,” according to a press release.
Vahey said that involves teams of Republicans and Democrats working together to read off the votes of the defective ballots and then inputting them into a touch-screen voting machine. It’s a process Vahey said she trusts. She said they had to do that for about 1,000 ballots last year.
But, she said, “we’ve never had a quantity this large.”
County spokeswoman Kelly Cofrancisco said the mail-in ballot counting “is going slower than we would have liked.”
“Current numbers show we have reduced the uncounted mail-in ballots from 23,000 to less than 13,000. The count is ongoing,” she said in an email. “Our vote counting process is transparent and bipartisan. The county continues to prioritize accuracy over speed to ensure the safe, accurate, and timely counting of votes.”
Vahey said she expects the vote counting to continue Friday and into the weekend.
Candidates also are frustrated by the way the county released results on election night. The county’s website displayed results with 100 percent of precincts reporting, leading many Republican candidates to believe they’d won, and news outlets to report the same, GOP officials said. But they were not aware there were still more than 20,000 mail-in ballots to count, and those ballots were overwhelmingly sent to Democrats. GOP officials also said the overall number of mail-in ballots was initially under-reported on the county’s website Tuesday night.
“All the local media outlets have reported that Republicans are winning, they won. And, in fact, a lot of them may not have,” said Liz Preate Havey, chairwoman of the Montgomery County Republican Committee. “In the western part of the county, there are dozens of candidates who are waiting to find out if the information they received that they won is wrong.”