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.”