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Butler County Finishes 2020 Election Review After 170 Hours

The Pennsylvania county found no discrepancies after a hand count of 1,661 ballots was completed. Officials hope the recount reinforces to residents how costly and time-consuming counting ballots by hand is.

(TNS) — Butler County, Pa., has completed its review of two precincts from the 2020 election, finding no inaccuracies and totaling nearly 170 work hours for county elections staff, according to a report prepared by the county's acting elections director.

William White, the county solicitor and acting elections director, presented the findings from the recount of ballots from the 2020 election at the Butler County commissioners' meeting on Wednesday. In his report, Mr. White described the review process and the 169.75 total hours county elections staff used to complete the recount.

To complete a precinct in Butler City, it took county staff about 7 1/2 hours to review 600 ballots, which totals about 1.33 ballots per minute, Mr. White said. In Donegal Township's precinct, it took staff nearly 11 hours to recount 1,061 ballots, for about 1.63 ballots per minute. The ballots were each reviewed by a team of staff members, so the 169.75 hours was the cumulative total of all their time.

Mr. White also wrote that the county's three scanners performed "surprisingly well," and watchers were glad to see that the scanners were counting partially filled circles, check marks, Xs and other imperfect marks.

"Although it is important to stress voter education (that they follow directions and fill in the circle completely on the ballot), it was good to see that check marks, partial fill-ins, Xs and the like were still being similarly counted by the scanners and humans alike," Mr. White added.

Butler County had been considering conducting a review of the 2020 election over the last year at the suggestion of a locally appointed election commission. Like many Pennsylvania counties, Butler County has received increased skepticism from conservative activists who believe the 2020 election was "stolen" from former President Donald Trump.

The recount effort had another purpose: to show county residents how costly and lengthy it would be to count ballots by hand. Some members of the Butler PA Patriots organization are advocating for the county to stop using technology in its elections entirely as the only way to restore trust in the election system. Members are collecting signatures to try to get a referendum on the ballot to block the usage of electronic voting machines or scanners in the future.

The review was conducted like this: A county elections staff member read out the results from every race on each ballot. Another four to seven people tally each vote. Then the ballots are re-scanned by the county's ballot scanner to confirm they have the same count. (By the time the county started reviewing Donegal Township, the county decided to use smaller teams of about four people to count, Mr. White noted in his report.)

At the start of Wednesday's commissioners' meeting, two Lancaster Township residents said during public comment that they want Butler County's top leaders to reassure voters that the election is safe and secure once the review is complete. One of these residents asked for the total cost of the recount effort.

"People keep saying that people doubt the safety of our elections," one Lancaster Township resident said. "That's because so many elected officials are saying they can't have faith in the elections."

Another county resident said the recount effort didn't go far enough. The resident said he wished that the county would have chosen towns where the vote was outside the statistical norm, such as one precinct in Cranberry where Mr. Trump only received 49 percent of the vote.

The county initially planned to review three precincts: one small, one medium-sized and one large. On Wednesday, the county commissioners decided to postpone reviewing the large precinct until after the 2022 election. The county will review the 2022 November election results for that precinct — Middlesex South — said county Commissioner Leslie Osche.

Overall, Ms. Osche said there was positive feedback from staff and election skeptics alike. The county learned a number of new things from the 2020 ballot review, she added.

In Mr. White's report, he noted there were three discrepancies found among all 1,661 ballots reviewed, two of which were caused by human error. In two instances, it was determined that the person reading the ballots miscounted the number of votes. The third discrepancy was on one ballot, where the ballot scanners determined there was no vote present, otherwise called an "undervote." A reviewer was able to determine that the voter had intended to mark the ballot.

Mr. White also provided the county with a number of recommendations as part of his report. These include: using fewer teams of people to hand count ballots, continuing to segregate mail ballots as they arrive at the county building by precinct, and having the county's computation board review and adjudicate undervotes or overvotes for mail ballots.

(c)2022 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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