Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Delaware County Hears Case on Delaying Election Certification

Petitioners claimed that the board and County Election Bureau breached their duties by mailing official ballots to unverified voters, deleting records, by allowing a third party to control and tabulate mail-in ballots and more.

(TNS) — Petitioners hoping to delay the certification of votes in the 2022 General Election made their case Monday before Delaware County, Pa., Common Pleas Court Judge Barry Dozor.

The results of the Nov. 8 election were expected to be certified by the Delaware County Election Board on Tuesday, though Board Solicitor Nick Centrella said they are not actually due back to the state until Nov. 28.

Gregory Stenstrom, Leah Hoopes and Nichole Missino filed the petition for an emergency injunction last week alleging the Board and Delaware County Election Bureau "breached their statutory and fiduciary duties" by "mailing official ballots to unverified voters ...; deleting at least 2,778 records of requests for mail-in ballots; by deleting, after Election Day, at least 194 voter registration records of individuals whose mail-ballots were counted in the vote totals; by permitting a partisan third party to control and tabulate mail-in ballots; and by adulterating the chain of custody by detouring the election night journey of the county's physical ballots and v-drives for six hours into a closed building, where poll watchers were prohibited from entering, before continuing the delivery to the centralized counting center at the Wharf Building in Chester."

Stenstrom of Glen Mills and Hoopes of Bethel Township are both poll watchers in different precincts. Missino, a Media business owner, was the Republican candidate for state Rep. in the 165th Legislative District, but lost to incumbent Democrat Jennifer O'Mara 21,145 to 13,056, according to unofficial election tallies.

Stenstrom explained that the plaintiffs were seeking images of all mail-in ballots scanned by counting machines — which also photograph ballots — so they could be cross-checked with voter rolls using commercially available software.

"The core of what we want to do is, we just want to take mail-in ballots and look at them," he said.

Centrella argued from the outset that the plaintiffs had no standing as poll watchers or canvassing observers to bring the petition because they could not identify any particular harm they had suffered. He said this was obviously an election challenge, which requires the affidavits of 20 qualified electors in any given race to challenge the results, but those had not been offered for any of the allegations.

Centrella added that it is established that the board has no fiduciary duty to candidates, poll watchers or canvassing observers, and that there were no challenges brought on the day of the election despite judges being on duty to hear them.

Dozor said he would consider those arguments, but nonetheless wanted to hear the plaintiffs make their case.

"Unless I do that, unless we truly vet these issues as to their requests for a preliminary injunction, there's going to be more innuendo, more suspicion, more false information, more fake news," he said. "...Truth needs no defense and I want the truth on the record, so these allegations, accusations or innuendos are answered and resolved."

Day in Court

Dozor did try to assist the plaintiffs, none of whom are attorneys, to get those answers from the nine witnesses they called Monday, including Stenstrom, though frustrations mounted as court rules interfered with solicited testimony.

Joan Weber, an accountant with decades of experience, did not qualify as an expert witness, for instance, and thus was able to provide little testimony on the allegation that the 2,778 requests for mail-in ballots had been requested or deleted.

It was the same for Robert Mancini, a Marple poll watcher who said he is on leave from doing cybersecurity for the Navy, but could not testify to his experience on those lines because he lacked a curriculum vitae.

Mancini did at least get to say he saw one proof sheet for vote tabulations that did not include a hash code for a corresponding "v-drive" used to digitally record vote totals and that a machine in Marple was malfunctioning.

Julie Yu said she had gotten video of two people she said self-identified as county employees collecting ballots from a drop box in Springfield and taking them to the Flagship Corporate Center at 2 W. Baltimore Ave. in Media rather than the Government Center on Front Street.

Yu said she recorded lines of people at both locations, each of which had a police presence, but was informed that there were no poll watchers or observers at the Flagship building. Centrella did stipulate that county employees were directed to that building on election night but did not elaborate on why.

Dozor tried repeatedly to keep testimony within the four corners of the emergency petition, but the plaintiffs were able to offer some testimony more closely related to a separate, pending complaint alleging the Delaware County Bureau of Elections failed to conduct "logic and accuracy" testing on machines that count mail-in ballots and that approximately 25,000 such ballots were delivered to "unverified" voters.

Two witnesses said they viewed testing on those machines in October that violated the election code, including that the machines were set to "test" rather than "election" mode, that tested ballots were not pre-printed and filled out, but were printed at the time of the test, and that "v-drives" used to digitally record vote totals were "test drives," not the ones actually used on Election Day.

One other witness claimed to have seen four or five box trucks arriving to the Wharf building the night after the election by police escort and seeing a person tabulate votes take a v-drive into a back room before returning to plug it into the tabulation machine. Another woman from Marple said Missino had told her she was listed as "not voted" on rolls, despite casting a ballot in person Nov. 8.

Stenstrom testified that he saw approximately 20,000 to 25,000 mail-in ballots that had been "pre-arranged" on racks by 7 a.m. on Election Day, but he had no ability to check them or challenge their validity.

Stenstrom additionally claimed there was no way to check whether ballots sent to unverified voters had been segregated, that workers had to repeatedly re-scan ballots kicked out by machines as unreadable, that observers were unable to see much of what the machines were actually doing and that "all the elements of fraud" were present.

Certifying Voters

But Dozor said he had not heard any testimony to even suspect fraud or bad actors during hours of testimony Monday and that he became more and more convinced as the hearing went along that Centrella had correctly identified the petition as an election challenge.

Centrella called Election Bureau Chief Clerk Laureen Hagan late in the day, who explained that anyone verified through the Statewide Uniform Registry of Voters system maintained by the Department of State would be sent a mail-in ballot upon request.

Voters are verified either through a state-issued identification number or Social Security number, she said. Hagan said she had been advised by solicitors and secretaries of state since at least 2012 that if an elector is registered but not verified in the system, the law requires they nonetheless be sent a ballot pending certification.

Ballots for uncertified voters physically cannot be counted by the tabulation machines, however, and will be kicked out to an "issues bin" if they go through the machine, she said. They are only counted after the voter has certified their identification with the state, said Hagan, and they have until six days after the election to do so.

Additional checks are given for certified voters who do return mail-in ballots as well, she said, including checking signatures. There was another level of scrutiny this year to additionally make sure those ballots were properly dated following a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision shortly before the election, Hagan said.

It was unclear late Monday what, if any, decision Dozor had reached on the petition. No new entries had been made on the electronic docketing system by press time.

(c)2022 Daily Times, Primos, Pa. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
From Our Partners