Top Republican questions why Pa. county didn't prepare for ballot paper shortage when warned

Three key county election officials declined invitations to testify.

Published: March 28, 2023 11:04am

Updated: March 28, 2023 2:08pm

During a hearing on Tuesday morning to investigate a ballot paper shortage that marred the midterm election in Luzerne County, Pa., House Administration Committee Chairman Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) questioned why the county didn't prepare for a ballot paper shortage when they were warned ahead of time.

Steil began the hearing, noting that he had warned his home state of the supply chain crisis leading to ballot paper shortages in early 2022, and that counties across the country were made aware of the problem, but that Luzerne County seemed to be the only one that didn't listen to the warnings.

He added that nearly one-third of precincts in the county ran out of paper, which, in some cases, occurred shortly after polls opened. This resulted in some voters leaving without voting, Steil said. Some polls closed for hours on Election Day, others were not reopened.

Ranking member Rep. Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.) said in his opening statement that he was confused by the purpose of the hearing since the county officials weren't present at the hearing.

Three key county election officials declined invitations to testify. A congressman who represents part of Luzerne County, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), also won't testify at the committee hearing.

Morelle argued that the reluctance of the election officials to testify was "logical" since they were concerned about interfering with the county district attorney's investigation into the ballot paper shortage.

However, Cartwright's GOP opponent from the midterm U.S. House race, Jim Bognet, will be testifying, along with Republican National Committee counsel Darin Gibbons, Commissioner of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission Donald Palmer, Action Together NEPA Executive Director Alisha Hoffman-Mirilovich, and four citizens of Luzerne County.

Bognet testified that voters were turned away at the polls and told to come back later, or were only able to vote through provisional ballots. He said that some voters left, while others were told they would be called later to go back to the precincts to vote.

The former candidate testified that the county election officials "tried to cover up" their mistakes, and that rather than take responsibility, the county manager resigned for personal reasons. He added that 4.5 months after the election, the county election officials still haven't answered any questions about what caused the Election Day issues.

Bognet also said that over 40 polling locations ran out of ballot paper on Election Day in Luzerne County.

While being questioned by Steil, Bognet said that his campaign had sued the Luzerne County Board of Elections to reconcile the number of ballots cast with the number of voters who signed in at the precincts. After a judge ordered the county to release the information, Bognet said there was a discrepancy of about 4,000 to 5,000 voters to ballots.

He added that the board abdicated their duty to investigate the Election Day issues when they sent the investigation to the county district attorney. The district attorney's probe is a criminal investigation, Bognet said, but questioned what the investigation could find if no crime had been committed, and argued that the county was using it "as a shield to not answer questions." Bognet noted that the county election officials "never answered voters on how the issues occurred" on Election Day.

Gibbons testified that 50 voters were turned away at a polling location because of ballot paper shortages.

Palmer noted during the hearing that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission had issued warnings about ballot paper shortages before the 2022 primary elections, even providing deadlines for when paper should be ordered by so that localities would have enough.

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) suggested that the county officials be subpoenaed by the committee to testify about the ballot paper shortages.

Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.), who represents about half of Luzerne County but is not a member of the Administration Committee, joined the hearing to question witnesses. He said he was first contacted at 7:30 a.m. on Election Day about the ballot paper shortages.

Meuser also said that Luzerne County "completely ignored" advisories regarding ballot paper supply chain issues.

During the hearing, questions were raised regarding who was responsible for ordering the ballot paper. Luzerne County citizen Benjamin Herring later testified that he found out through a public records request to the county that the county elections bureau is in charge of ordering the paper.

Herring also noted that in 48 precincts in Luzerne County, the ratio of Republicans to Democrats voting in person on Election Day is two to one. In some precincts, the ratio is as high as nine to one.

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