Delaware County is still digging through the ballots from Tuesday’s election, but some local officials aren’t waiting to declare their handling of the COVID-delayed event a disaster.
“Yesterday was nothing more than a complete failure of planning and leadership by the elected Democrat officials of Delaware County,” said Delaware County GOP Chairman Tom McGarrigle. “The surge in mail-in voting was predictable long before the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, but despite months of warning our county officials were caught totally flat-footed. People didn’t get their ballots, they got the wrong ballots, or they got multiple ballots.”
McGarrigle excoriated the county’s leadership, including the all-Democrat board of commissioners, holding them responsible for citizens’ complaints about a chaotic process.
Earlier in the week, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) gave voting deadline extensions to six counties, including Montgomery and Delaware, over concerns about preparedness. Wolf’s extension was aimed at counties dealing with a surge of mail-in ballots but which were also constrained by the COVID-19 crisis alongside civil unrest, allowing them to receive absentee or mail-in ballots by mail to 5 P.M., June 9.
While not responding specifically to McGarrigle’s statement, the Delaware County Board of Elections acknowledged it has more planning and work to do in comments emailed to Delaware Valley Journal.
“Conducting our first election on new voting equipment, our first election with expanded mail-in voting, an election rescheduled and conducted using special procedures due the pandemic, we learned many things — especially, we need to scale up our operations for a changed environment,” a Delco elections board official told Delaware Valley Journal.
In a wider news release, Delco elections officials apologized “for our shortcomings and appreciate the understanding and patience you showed when frustrated by the circumstances.”
Concerns and complaints marred Election Day across the Delaware Valley, an outcome that may have been unavoidable while holding an election amid a pandemic.
Chester County believes it is days from completing its vote tally, thanks to well over 70,000 absentee and mail-in ballots.
“Even as primary election day went on, we saw opportunities to make adjustments to the whole process,” a spokeswoman for the county told Delaware Valley Journal.
Republicans, led by President Trump, have been expressing increased skepticism over the integrity of an election dominated by mail-in or absentee ballots. Count Republican Sen. Pat Toomey among those as well.
“I think by the fall we should be very much back to what I’m going to call normal,” Toomey told radio host Dom Giordano Wednesday.
“We’re certainly going to have more social distancing, more handwashing and more precautions. But business is going to be open. Schools are going to be open. Churches are going to be open. And I don’t know why we wouldn’t go back to the ordinary method of voting.”
“That is a much more secure way to do it than we’re doing now,” Toomey said.
Toomey’s press secretary, Bill Jaffe, said returning to normal includes going back “to the normal number of polling locations, making it easier than it was yesterday for more people to vote in person.”
When asked about delays in Bucks County, Chairwoman Diane Ellis-Marseglia (D) blamed Harrisburg.
“The delay, really, is due to the fact that the legislature would not allow us to start to count the ballots that came in the mail, the mail-in ballots, until 8 o’clock last night.” Chairwoman Diane Ellis-Marseglia said. She also flatly denied that new machines slowed anything down.
The county estimates they had more than 100,000 mail-in ballots for the primary, and with the voting machines they have, they are able to process about 3,000 to 4,000 votes per hour. That means if the voting machines worked at optimal speed around the clock, the county would need at least another 25 hours to finish processing them.
“We desperately are going to need a legislative change to be able to open those ballots,” next election, Ellis-Marseglia noted. She also stressed she felt there were improvements to the overall system, even if that meant a slowdown in getting final numbers.
“We’ve gotten used to having immediate results, but they weren’t verifiable, weren’t accountable, and we could never recount them. Now we can, so it’s probably better to pause and wait some time to have a reliable system,” Ellis-Marseglia said.
With all the talk about voting integrity, U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania William M. McSwain said his team is tracking changes in voting procedures closely, and what it all means legally.
“Our elections are only as secure as the people running them,” McSwain said told local radio host Chris Stigall Wednesday. And as for claims that “there is no voter fraud,” McSwain pointed to a major plea deal in a voter fraud case out of Philadelphia just two weeks ago.
“One of the things I wanted to stress in my public remarks [announcing the plea deal] was for any election official — whether judge of elections, someone who’s working at the polls in some other capacity, or even just volunteering at the polls, anybody who has any roll in an election — I want them to know that the federal government is watching.”
“I want everybody to know in our district, the US attorney’s office is working around the clock to try to make sure that our elections are fair,” he added later.