Federal law enforcement officials have ordered that Luzerne County, in Pennsylvania, must change its practices after multiple military ballots were found discarded. Out of the ballots that were discovered to have been opened, all of them had been cast for President Donald Trump.
“The FBI has recovered a number of documents relating to military ballots that had been improperly opened by your elections staff, and had the ballots removed and discarded, or removed and placed separately from the envelope containing confidential voter information and attestation,” U.S. Attorney David J. Freed said in a letter to Shelby Watchilla, Director of Elections of Luzerne County Bureau of Elections.
“Specifically, a total of nine (9) military ballots were discovered to have been discarded,” the letter continued. “Seven (7) of those ballots when discovered by investigators were outside of any envelope. Those ballots were all cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump. One (1) of those seven (7) ballots was able to be identified to an envelope that was recovered, and thereby potentially tied to a specific voter. Two (2) military ballots that had been discarded were previously recovered by elections staff, reinserted into what appeared to be their appropriate envelopes, and then resealed. Therefore, the votes cast on those two (2) ballots are unknown. Thus, is appears that three (3) of the nine (9) recovered ballots can be potentially attributed to specific voters. Six (6) of the ballots were simply removed and discarded, and cannot be attributed to a specific voter at this time.”
The letter stated that the findings were “troubling” and that the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections “must comply with all applicable state and federal election laws and guidance to ensure that all votes — regardless of party — are counted to ensure an accurate election count.”
“Even though your staff has made some attempts to reconstitute certain of the improperly opened ballots, there is no guarantee that any of these votes will be counted in the general election,” the letter continued. “While the assigned investigators are continuing their work including reviewing additional discarded materials, it is imperative that the issues identified be corrected.”
Following reports about the “troubling” finding, Pennsylvania’s Democratic secretary of state said in a Sep. 30 news conference that the initial findings of an ongoing investigation indicated that the discarded ballots were a “bad error,” rather than intentional fraud.
“Workers in the elections office in Luzerne County are getting training on handling mailed-in military and overseas ballots, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said during an online news conference,” AP reported.
“The investigation is still going on, but from the initial reports we’ve been given, this was a bad error,” said Boockvar. “This was not intentional fraud. So training, training, training.”
A 2005 bipartisan report from the Commission on Federal Election Reform, chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker III, concluded that “absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.”
“Those things are delivered into mailboxes. They can be taken out,” Barr said during an interview on Fox News. “There’s questions about whether or not it even denies a secret ballot, because a lot of the states have you signing the outside of the envelope. So, the person who opens the envelope will know how people voted.”
“There’s no – right now, a foreign country could print up tens of thousands of counterfeit ballots, and be very hard for us to detect which was the right and which was the wrong ballot,” Barr continued. “So, I think it can upset and undercut the confidence in the integrity of our elections. If anything, we should tighten them up right now.”
This article has been updated to include the statement by Boockvar.