9 discarded ballots weren’t fraud, state election chief says

Politics

FILE – In this Oct. 19, 2018 file photo, U.S. Attorney David Freed speaks at a news conference at the Centre County Courthouse Annex in Bellefonte, Pa. Freed’s office issued a statement on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, that nine mailed-in military ballots had been “discarded” by the local election office. The announcement was seized on by President Donald Trump and his supporters. The U.S. attorney’s announcement of the investigation Thursday provided few details, but did mention the votes were for Trump. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — It appears that an election worker’s decision to throw out nine military ballots in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, amounted to a mistake and not “intentional fraud,” the state’s top elections official said Wednesday.

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.

“The investigation is still going on, but from the initial reports we’ve been given, this was a bad error,” said Boockvar, a member of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration. “This was not intentional fraud. So training, training, training.”

President Donald Trump has repeatedly brought up the nine ballots as what he calls evidence of election fraud in the past week, including two mentions during Tuesday night’s presidential debate.

The president first mentioned the ballots during a radio show appearance Thursday, hours before the Trump-nominated U.S. attorney in Harrisburg, Dave Freed, put out a news release about the investigation.

Jonathan Marks, the Pennsylvania deputy secretary for elections, said that in some cases, military and overseas ballots arrived in Luzerne County inside envelopes that do not clearly mark them as ballots.

The usual process when those types of ballots arrive is to immediately reseal them and store them securely with other mail-in and absentee ballots to await canvassing, he said.

“So it sounds like it was confusion,” Marks said.

The Department of State is working on training for Luzerne County elections workers on what to do when they find balloting material inside an unmarked envelope.

“That’s what needs to be tightened up,” Marks said.

The unidentified worker, who officials have said was fired as a result, did not consult with others in the elections office, Marks said.

Investigators have not explained who recovered the ballots, described by Freed as “discarded,” or the process by which two of them were resealed. Freed said the other seven were all cast for Trump.

Neither Freed nor the FBI has said whether criminal charges are possible, and it’s unclear whether those nine votes will be counted.

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