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GIORDANO: Ban No Excuse Mail-in Ballots, Drop Boxes For Fair Elections

One issue that has risen to the top in this election cycle is Pennsylvania Act 77. This act was supported by many Republicans when they agreed to essentially remove any requirement to be able to vote by absentee ballot in exchange for taking away the ability of voters to vote a straight party vote at the flick of one button on election day.

Democrats essentially turned the removal excuses for absentee ballots into the ability to vote by mail in Pennsylvania–no reason required.

State Senators Doug Mastriano and Jake Corman are two of the candidates in the Republican primary for the governor’s race. They have tried to spin this misjudgment by saying Democrats distorted the intentions of Act 77 and gave us the current system that many people believe is much more open to ballot harvesting and election fraud.

In addition to mail-in ballots, Democrats in Pennsylvania approved a drop box system across the state that allows people to deposit ballots that they receive in the mail into secured boxes across the state. The law on this requires that a person may deposit only their own ballot.

On April 4, Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin issued a report that indicated that at least 288 people deposited more than one ballot at five area drop boxes between October 18th and election day, November 2, 2021.

On my radio show, Martin told me that he declined to prosecute anyone because only a few of the 288 people could be identified due to the mask mandate at the time and the poor quality of the video surveillance at the drop box locations. I objected to this approach and told him that much more must be done on this front to ensure that people believe in the results of our elections.

After that conversation, I was pleasantly surprised that my producer was contacted by Martin’s office, and he came on my show to announce three reforms that he was instituting or calling for. First, he wants more precise and prominently placed warnings against depositing more than one ballot to be placed on and around the drop boxes. Second, he wants the drop box at the Lehigh County Government Center to be restricted to “normal” business hours. He wants voters to believe that someone might be watching.

Finally, he will dispatch county detectives in plainclothes to periodically monitor the drop boxes. This last reform has set off some Lehigh County Democratic leaders who say these detectives are intimidating and they have to deduct from their pay for any time spent observing the drop boxes.

I believe this local battle over drop boxes is occurring all over the country and that’s why I watched the debut of Dinesh D’Souza’s new film “2000 Mules,” at an area theater with my listeners. The premise of the film, as presented by D’Souza and True The Vote, is that by using cellphone geo-tracking and surveillance video, they were able to follow a network of “mules “in battleground states collecting ballots from get-out-the-vote outfits and then stuffing them a few at a time in multiple drop boxes, often in the middle of the night.

D’Souza concedes that in Michigan and Wisconsin the “mules” they have observed would not have deposited enough votes to overcome President Joe Biden’s margin of victory. However, he maintains that in Georgia and Arizona, their observations turn up more than enough votes to secure victory for former President Donald Trump in those states.

Incredibly, in Philadelphia alone, he maintains that 1,100 mules averaged 50 drop box visits each giving us 275,000 suspect votes that could have flipped Pennsylvania from Biden to Trump.

The film is well researched and tells the story in great detail. Even if you reject its premise about the numbers of suspect drop box votes, it underlines the need to remove mail-in balloting from our elections or continue to suffer a lack of confidence in election results.

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Frustrated Chester County Residents Demand Election Integrity

Chester County commissioners held a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night. But the topic that dominated was not on the agenda. It was confidence in elections.

Frustration over how Chester County handles the voting process began last November following the 2021 municipal elections. The number of residents showing up to voice their discontent has only grown.

Attendees patiently waited in the Henrietta Hankin Branch Library until the general public comment period. Their main demand? A forensic audit of the 2021 general election.

“This is America,” said Cathy Ingham. “We, the people, demand free and fair elections with no fraud.”

Their lack of confidence in the election results stems from reported issues of USBs not properly reporting ballots, bags of votes being discovered late in the counting, and jammed scanners that reportedly sometimes shredded ballots.

“The problem is we had a dishonest election,” William Jack Shipe told the commissioners.

Michael Taylor, solicitor for the Republican Committee of Chester County, was in the counting room during the general election last year and started voicing concerns then. Since November’s outburst of activism, he detailed progress being made with the county.

“Myself, the Democratic solicitor, and a representative from the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania have been sitting down once a month with the county solicitor and voter services staff to go over the problems we have seen, and try to improve the system,” said Taylor.

But those talks have not led many advocating for electoral reforms to be less angry.

“I feel like I’m asking the fox to secure the henhouse because there’s no reaction from [the commissioners] at all,” said Ingham, describing how commissioners gave little response to the demands for a forensic audit.

Taylor said lingering frustration stems from the lack of an audit. Without it, he says a determination cannot be made whether the election was secure or not. That leaves residents frustrated.

While Taylor said he has made some progress on the audit in discussions with interested parties, movement in the Chester County Democratic Committee appears non-existent.

“The request for a forensic audit is nothing more than an attempt to use an audit to overturn duly certified elections,” Democratic Chair Charlotte Valyo told Delaware Valley Journal in a statement.

Despite the disagreement on the audit, Valyo said there has been more bipartisanship in the creation of new processes to secure elections in the county. “These processes further bolstered the already rigorous election protocols and addressed the concerns submitted by the Republican and Democratic parties,” she said.

Some speakers at the commission meeting recounted anecdotes of their troubles voting. Diane Houser was one of them. In the 2020 general election, she voted in person and returned her incomplete mail-in ballot to prove she could do so. But she recently learned her vote was not counted.

“Hey, how many other people did this happen to?” she asked. “My question is, why were our votes not tabulated after our votes were put in the voting machine.”

Many also voiced concerns about mail-in ballots.

“What did the last three elections have in common?” Christopher Manos asked the crowd. “We all went to bed having decisively won these past three elections. And election victory margins were whittled away by the scam commonly known as mail-in balloting.”

A top priority for county Republicans has been education on mail-in ballots. It is important the base understands the process so therefore they can have confidence in it, Taylor told DVJ in November. Since then, Taylor said, progress has been made.

“I’ve been going around to some of our local areas and just talked to them for five or 10 minutes about how the process works and what you can expect,” he said. “That’s been very productive.” As people learn that mail-in ballots get counted later, they realize it’s not about ballots being pumped into the system, Taylor said.

But other concerns remain besides mail-in balloting. Chief among them are drop boxes. The County Republicans would prefer they are eliminated, but if that cannot happen they support adequate surveillance at sites and more security measures to make sure only each person is casting their own vote.

Top of mind is the upcoming primary elections in May. The goal is to avoid another contentious count, Taylor said, and he believes the election is on track to go more smoothly than last November’s contest.

“The new policies that the voter services have put in place [do] offer more protections,” Taylor said. He added since May is a primary election there’s less concern. The plan is to ‘see what happens in May, and then continue to grow on that.’”

And while Taylor was clear he believed the county and other interested parties had been working together in good faith, he also was clear he is not pleased with the current state of play.

“We need to keep working toward protecting the mail-in ballots and following the rule of law,” he said. “I would say it’s a work in progress and I encourage the board of commissioners and all parties involved to continue to work to better the system.”

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PA Supreme Court Declines to Hear Ballot Case, Miller Sworn-in For DASB Seat

Margie Miller, a Republican, was elected to a seat on the Downingtown Area School Board in November. She was finally sworn in at a meeting on Wednesday, March 2.

The delay was caused by a court challenge by her Democratic opponent, Rebecca Britton, over six ballots.  Last week, the state Supreme Court refused to hear that case. That opened the way for Miller to take her seat on the board.

“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling certified my election, and solidified the fact that the people of Region 4 have spoken,” said Miller. “I am very excited to begin working with the other eight directors on the DASD School Board.

“The trajectory of this election and the fact that I am being seated four months after Election Day underscores the necessity of an audit,” Miller said. “Mail-in ballots serve a legitimate need. Their validity is obviously still very much in question.

“My personal hope is that the chain of events following this past election in the school director race may serve to assist a future election decision. I am honored and humbled to have been elected to serve the people of Region 4 in the Downingtown Area School District.”

Michael Taylor, the solicitor for the Chester County Republicans, said the court’s refusal to take up Britton’s appeal meant Miller was certified as the winner.

Taylor previously said a Commonwealth Court panel of judges had correctly “affirmed the decision of the Chester County Board of Elections to disqualify the six ballots.”

While a recent ruling had three different opinions, a majority of the judges ruled the ballots should be thrown out, he said.

Britton said, “The Supreme Court ruling is disappointing. There are 67 counties in Pennsylvania.  If each county can draw arbitrary conclusions regarding which votes can be counted then our democracy is unprotected and fragile. In this case, we will never know who the six votes were cast for and the courts missed an opportunity to create clarity where the law was open to interpretation. This is not a partisan issue; this is an ‘every voter’ issue.”

She added, “I wish Mrs. Miller well during her tenure representing Region 4.”

 

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Downingtown Area School District Election Case Appealed to PA Supreme Court

A Downingtown Area School Board election dispute may determine the standing of Pennsylvania’s law regarding mail-in ballot errors.

At issue is whether election officials should follow the letter of the law or allow some leeway in counting problematic mail-in votes. Sam Stretton, a lawyer for Area 4 Democrat candidate Rebecca Britton told Delaware Valley Journal he is appealing a divided Commonwealth Court ruling to the state Supreme Court.

“It’s a very important issue,” said Stretton. And it not only affects his client, but will clarify election law statewide. “In election law we lean toward a liberal interpretation to protect the right to vote. There’s no evidence of fraud.”

Not so fast, says Michael Taylor, who represents Republican candidate Margie Miller, who will be the winner without the six disputed ballots.

Taylor said that the Commonwealth Court panel has correctly “affirmed the decision of the Chester County Board of Elections to disqualify the six ballots.”

While a recent ruling had three different opinions, a majority of the judges ruled the ballots should be thrown out, he said.

“Our elections are the bedrock of our republic and must be governed by the rule of law,” said Taylor. “Every vote that is legally cast should be counted. That is what was done in this school board race, and Margie Miller is the new director to the Downingtown School Board. Margie has won the contest at the Board of Elections, the Court of Common Pleas, and now, the Commonwealth Court. However, we have sadly heard that Rebecca Britton will now ask the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to overturn the election.

“Ms. Britton’s decision to continue with these legal challenges does a disservice to the citizens of Region 4,” said Taylor. “DASD is in the process of deciding many major issues. Besides dealing with the surge in COVID, the school district is deciding whether to build a new school or refurbish others. Region 4 is not at the discussions or able to cast a vote while Ms. Britton continues with these legal fights. The Miller campaign is weighing its options.”

Miller said, “With only four votes separating my opponent and myself, this has been quite a journey and an education. I am a teacher, not a politician. My intention upon running was to be an advocate for our children and a voice for the residents of region 4. At this moment, there is no voice nor representation for region 4. With the election uncertified and being appealed at the State level, my constituents are left with no vote or say in any matters or plans pertaining to DASD. It is a case of taxation without representation. Although I receive correspondence and calls from constituents, I have to answer as Director-Elect. I encourage them to write to all board members as I am unable to speak for them at this time.

“I enjoy connecting and emailing with the people of Downingtown. Th1ey are very candid, concerned, and truly want what is best for our community,” she said. “They also thank me profusely for responding to them – they appreciate knowing that they are heard. The people of region 4 have spoken – I won in November, I won at the county level, and I won in Commonwealth Court. Patience is my mantra.

“I cannot wait to serve the residents of region 4,” Miller added. “I respect and thank the judges who have given their expertise and verdicts thus far. I respect and thank all of my many supporters who are eager to witness my swearing-in. I am confident this will come to fruition in a prompt manner.”

Britton declined to comment.

 

 

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Chester Co. Board Votes to Certify 2021 Election, Despite Public Outcry

Chester County commissioners, sitting as the Election Board, have voted to certify the Nov. 2 election results. It voted 2-1, with Republican Michelle Kichline opposing, to certify the election.

Commissioners got an earful of complaints from irate residents last Monday. Michael Taylor, the solicitor for the Chester County Republicans took issue with comments from Charlotte Valyo, chair of the county Democrats, that were reported in a previous Delaware Valley Journal article.  Taylor said he does not disagree with the GOP Chairman Dr. Gordon Eck’s assessment that numerous issues occurred during the 2021 election, but rather, Eck learned of those issues from Taylor.

“Let me be clear, there are serious issues with the count in Chester County caused by the failure of the electronic resources employed by the county to tabulate the vote,” said Taylor. “I have voiced them to county staff and at yesterday’s Board of Elections Meeting. The concerns voiced by Dr. Eck were first raised by me. Simply because I am polite and professional in dealing with the Democratic solicitor and or county staff does not equate to agreement or compliance with the election process. It astounds me that such a conclusion could be reached and underscores the divisive nature of politics in 2021.”

The issues included mail-in ballots that were damaged by a machine that opens the mail and then taped together, jammed scanners, a bag of uncounted 265 ballots found days after the election, and problems with UBS computer sticks with votes stored on them. Taylor said he and the Democrat’s solicitor will work with the county commissioners and staff to improve the vote-counting process.

He also hopes to “ameliorate the distrust many Republicans feel with the mail-in ballot program,” said Taylor. “It is not a good program, but we have to learn to work within the rules of the game. I am concerned that too many of my party’s voters stayed home because of distrust or disgust with the mail-in ballots. Educating them on the program can only assist in bringing trust back to the public.”

More than 20 people told the commissioners they don’t believe the election results were accurate due to issues such as damaged ballots, a bag of ballots found days after the election, and discrepancies with the voter rolls.

“What is the worth of a single life?” asked a Malvern man. “Hundreds of thousands of men and women have sacrificed their lives for our right to vote.” His son-in-law lost a leg in Iraq. “What’s a leg worth? If they thought there were counterfeit bills in a pile of money, wouldn’t they do more than just recount the same money? What is the worth of your election oversight and integrity?”

Another resident said the “citizens demand a full forensic audit.”

Elaine Weber said the county has had the same issues with the last three elections because of mail-in ballots.

Suzie Smith said, “I don’t understand why two commissioners won’t agree to a full audit. It is unacceptable to certify this election with all these issues.”

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Mom Who Was Booted From West Chester School Board Meeting Has Last Laugh

Sometimes karma bites.

Anita Edgarian, the mother who was ejected from a West Chester Area School Board meeting in July after she tried to ask about Critical Race Theory, ran a write-in candidacy for the school board.

While Edgarian did not win a seat on the board, she believes her candidacy took votes away from School Board President Chris McCune, causing him to lose his seat on the board.

“No matter who you are, you can’t treat people like that,” said Edgarian, who garnered 1,629 votes.

Edgarian gained national attention when she was interviewed on Fox News after the July 26 meeting when she was taken out of the room by a police officer at McCune’s behest.

On Election Day Nov. 2, Edgarian was working at the polls all day at Bethlehem Methodist Church in Glen Mills, handing out campaign literature to ask people to vote for her.

“Toward the end, I was exhausted,” she said.  She talked to a young man and told him about what happened to her and that “I’m the mom taken out of the meeting.”

He not only voted for her but when he got home, he watched the video and told his mom, who had not planned to vote, that she had to go and vote for Edgarian. His mom also watched the video and agreed to vote, too, making it there shortly before the polls closed at 8 p.m., said Edgarian.  That evening that  man and his mom joined Edgarian and some volunteers at a restaurant who went for a bite to eat after the polls closed.

Edgarian is very happy with the outcome, even though she did not win. Another candidate, who she supports, Stacey Womsley, did.

“All the things I wanted to accomplish have happened,” said Edgarian, who is an immigrant from Iran.

“This is not about CRT,” the mother of three teenagers told DVJournal for an article shortly after her expulsion from the meeting. “This is about a citizen of the United States, a mother, an immigrant, a female with an accent, saying something that they didn’t want to hear and they physically intimidated me and bullied me.”

Critical Race Theory, which asserts that all American institutions are fundamentally racist, has been denounced by many area parents and others as having no place in the public schools. Some school officials have denied that it’s being taught. However, there is widespread agreement that CRT principles, such as asserting all white people are “privileged” and participating in advancing white supremacy, have made it into some schools. And at least one area school board member admitted that CRT is being taught in the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District.

Various area districts have spent thousands on consultants to train teachers on the CRT-inspired principles and hired directors of equity, diversity and inclusion. The issue apparently inspired slews of concerned DelVal parents out to vote, after they saw the curriculum being taught during virtual classes during the pandemic.

McCune, meanwhile, was elected to serve a four-year term in November 2013 and re-elected in November 2017, according to the school district website. He has served as board president since 2017. He did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

 

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Ashe Reelected Despite Withdrawal From Norristown Area School Board

Shae Ashe, the former president of the Norristown Area School Board who resigned two weeks before the Nov. 2 election after accusations that he sent sexually suggestive messages to a 17-year-old Norristown High School  student, won a seat on the school board on Nov. 2. And it appears mail-in ballots played a role in that victory.

Ashe, 30, a Democrat, came in fourth for the four seats, in the heavily Democratic district. Neither Ashe nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment, although when he withdrew from the board, Ashe asserted that he had not done anything wrong.

Shortly before his withdrawal, parents picketed the district demanding that Ashe step down and spoke out at a school board meeting.

“It’s crazy,” said Dana, the mother of the girl who received the sexting messages, about voters reelecting Ashe. “(It) makes me sick to my stomach.”

Under state election statutes, when candidates die or withdraw from most offices, it is up to the political party to replace them. However, Montgomery County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Foster said for school board members, the school board itself fills a vacancy.

“But the complication is that Shae won reelection,” said Foster. “So, presumably Shae will resign a second time, and again the board will replace him. The party hopes for a quick resolution to this issue.”

Montgomery County Republican Committee Chairman Liz Havey chalked up Ashe’s win to mail-in votes and noted it is one of the problems with permitting those ballots.

“While Shae Ashe lost overwhelming at the polls, those who cast their vote by mail prior to this information coming to light were unable to change their vote,” said Havey. “This is a significant issue with mail-in voting and prohibits voters from being able to vote with all available information. Our hope is that Mr. Ashe will not accept the nomination and that the board appoints Lisa Licwinko-Engleman to the position, who was the next highest vote-getter receiving over 3,900 votes from Norristown Area residents.

However, it is not that unusual that a name appears on the ballot and the person, for one reason or another, cannot serve.

“This is a situation that happens more often than you think,” said Robin Kolodny, chair of the political science department at Temple University. “Many times, it has to do with the death of a candidate after the ballot has gone to print. Obviously, withdrawal at the ‘wrong time’ is also a problem.”

In the meantime, The Washington Post recounts several instances where candidates won elections posthumously, including state Sen. James Rhoades (R-Alllentown) who had died in an automobile accident before the 2008 election.

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Competition Heats Up for Bucks County Controller, the Fiscal Watchdog

As election day quickly approaches, Bucks County voters must decide between incumbent Neale Dougherty (D) or attorney Pamela A. Van Blunk (R) for Bucks County Controller.

Prior to his term as controller, Dougherty worked in financial services and commercial insurance at Federated for 15 years. He got involved with local politics, becoming a  member of the New Hope-Solebury School Board and later, school board president. While on the board, he also chaired the finance and facilities committee.

Dougherty said his experience in finance has been “essential” to the position. “Having a background in finance is critical to this job. My experience for the last four years has really helped me,” he told the Delaware Valley Journal.

Bucks County Controller Neale Dougherty (D)

Meanwhile, Van Blunk, of Van Blunk Law, LLC, says she believes the controller needs a legal background, citing how, traditionally, the controller’s position in Bucks County has been held by an attorney since the job involves much legal interpretation.

“The controller scrutinizes, audits, and decides on all bills, claims, and demands against the county to verify that the claim is legally due and that the supplies or services for which payment is claimed have been furnished or performed under legal authority,” she said. “If the controller has concerns about a claim or invoice made to the county, the controller has the authority to investigate by issuing subpoenas, taking testimony under oath, and gathering evidence. If, after an investigation, the controller still has concerns, they have the authority to refuse approving the claim for payment. If the commissioners still want to pay the claim, they will need to go to court, present evidence, and have the court determine whether the claim must be paid.”

Audits have been an integral part of Dougherty’s work.

“The uptick in audits is important for taxpayers,” he said. “It has been a big improvement since I arrived. We audit the other row offices. We continue to audit the tax collectors and district courts. However, the increase of audits of row offices has been a real service to taxpayers,” he said. “We provide guidance to the commissioners on how to properly spend funds and we’ve done all that while meeting our daily responsibilities of accounts payable, payroll, paying the constables, the retirement checks, and looking after the retirement fund.”

Pamela A. Van Blunk (R)

If Van Blunk wins, she says she would be most excited to have “the ability to put my background and skills to use for the people of Bucks County. I believe in government transparency and holding our government officials accountable to the taxpayers because our taxpayers deserve to know where their tax dollars are being spent.”

Van Blunk’s background includes “extensive experience reviewing and interpreting laws, rules and regulations, reviewing financial reports, working with accountants, investigating misspending and fraud, gathering and presenting evidence, having subpoenas issued, taking testimony and going to court and trial.”

“Because of my legal background, I can hit the ground running on day one in office,” she said.

The election for controller carries more weight this year since whoever wins the office will have to oversee the commissioners’ use of $61 million in American Rescue Plan funds from this year alone, in addition to another $61 million the county will receive next year.

A draft of the budget has already been prepared by the commissioners, according to Dougherty.

“We’ll provide guidance on how to allocate it. It is not dedicated at this time, but we do know it will include grants for small businesses in Bucks Country,” he said.

On the topic of the American Rescue Plan Funds, Van Blunk said, “I intend to audit each and every dollar of COVID-related money that is coming into Bucks County to make sure that it is spent legally. I also believe that our taxpayers deserve to know where it is being spent and whether it is going to those who most need it.”

Ahead of election day, Dougherty said he would like voters to know that what he is most proud of, after serving for four years as controller, is that the office “is probably the least partisan of all the offices. And I have been fair and productive as the officeholder. I think folks should know about that.”

“I moved to Bucks County 28 years ago to raise my family in a safe community surrounded by great neighbors. Now that my family is grown, I want to give back to Bucks County to help ensure that it stays the wonderful place we are all so proud to call our home,” Van Blunk said about her message to voters.

Election Day is next Tuesday, November 2. Polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.