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Berks County Delays Election Certification Amid Recounts

The Pennsylvania county is delaying its certification of the Nov. 8 election results because of pending recounts. The interruption has forced the county to miss the state’s deadline for certification.

(TNS) — Berks County, Pa., is being forced to delay certifying the results of the Nov. 8 election because recounts are being sought in several precincts.

The elections board held a meeting Monday morning that was originally set as the time when it would certify the election results to meet the state's Monday deadline. Instead, the meeting focused on why the county would miss the deadline.

First Assistant County Solicitor Cody Kauffman told the commissioners that last week the Berks County Republican Committee and 94 voters filed petitions in county court seeking a recount of ballots cast during the general election at 30 precincts.

"With those recount petitions pending, we are not able to certify the results until those petitions are heard and ruled upon by the court," he said.

He said that when the petitions were filed the county notified the Pennsylvania Department of State that they would delay the county from certifying the results.

"They understand and agree that they cannot be certified if there are pending petitions," he said. "This is happening in other counties as well. We do hope to have a hearing scheduled soon so that we can argue our position, have a judge issue a ruling and can certify the results shortly thereafter."

Kauffman said that no hearing has been scheduled as of Monday. He explained that the petitions had been assigned to judges but that there have been recusals.

The petitions were filed under a little-known provision of state election law that allows a precinct's results to be recounted if three voters from the precinct pay $50 and file a petition in county court saying they believe "fraud or error" occurred there.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the recount effort in Berks is part of a statewide attempt by supporters of failed gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano to flood Pennsylvania courts with petitions seeking to force hand recounts.

The Berks County Republican Committee said they filed the petitions after receiving complaints from some voters that voting machines were changing votes cast for Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate to ones for the Democratic candidates.

The petitions were filed during a five-day window to challenge election results that began when election workers completed a final count on Nov. 16.

At the meeting Monday, Commissioners Chairman Christian Leinbach took issue with the allegation that votes were being "switched." He said the machines that people use to select their chosen candidates are simply ballot marking devices and do not record votes for the official tally.

Leinbach said he suspects the problem arose from people being unclear about how, exactly, to make their choices on the screen.

Rectangles with each candidate's name inside appear on the screen, one on top of the other. In the top left hand corner of each rectangle a small box also appears.

When a candidate is selected, a check mark appears in the small box inside that candidate's rectangle.

Leinbach said he believes some voters may have been trying to use their stylus to touch the small box, not knowing that they could touch anywhere inside the larger rectangle to cast their vote. Because the small box is near the edge of the rectangle, trying to touch it with the stylus would make it more likely that a voter could mistouch and accidentally select the wrong candidate.

For the governor's race, Shapiro's name appeared above Mastriano's. This meant that the small box in the top left of Mastriano's rectangle was close to Shapiro's rectangle.

Leinbach said that if voters were having trouble selecting the correct candidate they had several opportunities to fix it.

Once a voter has finished making selections, Leinbach said, a screen appears listing all of their choices and asks if that's how the voter intended to vote. If it's not, the voter can touch "no" and go back and change selections.

If the voter selects "yes" a ballot printout is produced. If the names on that printout are not what the voter intended, the voter can take it to an election worker at the precinct and have it "spoiled."

When you "spoil" a ballot, it is canceled and the voter can start the voting process again from the beginning. A voter can do this up to three times before having to fill out a provisional ballot.

Leinbach said the board will get a better explanation on Thursday of what, if anything, occurred during the election to make people think their votes were being changed. That's when a report from Election Systems & Software, the manufacturers of the machines, will be unveiled.

County officials on Thursday will present a report about why Berks cannot switch to paper ballots. Some local voters have called for an end of machine voting due to the claims about vote switching.

(c)2022 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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