After the state Office of Open Records (OOR) ruled signatures on mail-in ballots are public records, Delaware County agreed to allow a group of candidates to look at and count the envelopes from the May 16 primary.
Lead petitioner Joy Schwartz, a Republican running for county council, said six people are prepared to begin the process on July 18. The county did not comment on the settlement.
The OOR opinion comes on the heels of a hearing last week in Commonwealth Court, where the judge sent a case Schwartz and others filed to request to examine mail-in ballot envelopes to Common Pleas Court.
Schwartz and plaintiffs Gregory Stenstrom, Leah Hoopes, and Paul Rumley had filed three petitions asking the Commonwealth Court to intervene. Schwartz and her supporters, who represent themselves, were initially denied permission to look at the envelopes by county officials. Then, after the certification occurred, they were told they could. However, Secretary of State Al Schmidt suggested the names must be redacted from envelopes first for privacy reasons. As workers began to affix blue strips of painter’s tape over the names, Schwartz was concerned the envelopes would be damaged. She subsequently filed a second court challenge.
Commonwealth Court Judge Michael H. Wojcik also removed Schmidt as a defendant.
The petitioners had argued that blue tape the county was using to cover the signatures could cause the signatures to be ruined, which would be a violation of Act 77, the right-to-know law and state election code, said Schwartz.
“My big concern is that they have had well over a month of delay in producing the records. Suppose the envelopes are all there, showing they have approximately 27,000 valid declarations with signatures on them, and the corresponding images exist on the BlueCrest sorter, which scans them. In that case, the county should have no worries. If they have all the data, why are they fighting so hard to keep it from the public?” asked Schwartz, a retired history teacher.
“Delaware County is pleased that the court agreed with us that there was no jurisdiction for the case in the Commonwealth Court,” said Ryan Herlinger, a spokesman for the county, after Wojcik’s decision.
Schwartz and the other plaintiffs have also been joined by four candidates for the Rose Tree Media School Board: Kathyrn Buckley, Pat Bleasdale, Loranne Mazzulo, and Dean Dreibelbis.
Schwartz said the plaintiffs did not initially take their case to Common Pleas Court because an earlier election case they brought was “subject to strategic mooting in Delco. The Delco Court of Common Pleas has refused to assign a 2022 election case to a judge for 230 days.”
As for Delaware County election officials agreeing to allow the envelopes to be counted, Schwartz said, “They were not compliant with the law, Act 77.”
“The envelopes and people’s signatures are public records,” she said. She said these are similar to voting rolls, “blue books” that many counties use for in-person voting, which are also public records.
She added Pennsylvania allows various third-party, non-governmental organizations to have access to voter records, with voters’ information, including Social Security numbers.
“It’s a very porous system,” said Schwartz.
“I’m a watchdog,” she said. “I’m trying to watch so we have safe and secure elections.”