Pennsylvania County Dismisses Reports of Elections Irregularities

The National Republican Congressional Committee called for an investigation into possible voting machine calibration issues and other alleged problems.

by Natasha Lindstrom, The Tribune-Review / March 15, 2018
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(TNS) — Allegheny County elections officials countered reports Wednesday of alleged irregularities in the 18th Congressional District special election held the day before — including the claim that voting machines at several polling places had technical glitches that supposedly switched some voters' choices in favor of Democrat Conor Lamb.

The National Republican Congressional Committee called for an investigation into possible voting machine calibration issues and other alleged problems it suggests may have violated typical elections rules and procedures.

“All of these claims are incredibly troubling, and they all point to issues with transparency in some of these polling locations,” NRCC spokesman Chris Martin told the Tribune-Review. “We want to ensure that all of these claims are investigated to ensure that every legal vote that was cast counts.”

The Washington, D.C.-based NRCC — the GOP's chief fundraising committee dedicated to getting Republicans elected to Congress — pumped more than $3 million into efforts to defeat Lamb and improve Trump-backed Republican Rick Saccone's chances at winning.

As of Wednesday, Saccone unofficially trailed Lamb by 627 votes — a margin of 0.27-percentage point.

“We are aware of issues being raised by the Republican Party and the Rick for Congress campaign regarding yesterday's PA-18 special election,” Allegheny County Elections Division Director Mark Wolosik said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “We have not received notice of legal action being taken by any party or campaign at this time.”

The NRCC plans to pursue possible legal recourse once all ballots are counted, Martin said.

More than 250 provisional and military ballots are slated to be counted starting Friday. Overseas military ballots are not due until Tuesday.

The results won't be officially certified until April 2.

“Our primary concern is making sure that every legal vote cast is counted, and that includes provisional and military ballots, and then we'll determine what the next steps are,” Martin said. “All legal options are on the table at that point.”

Wolosik countered the claim that voting machines at several Allegheny County polling places possibly had calibration issues that caused some voters who wanted to select Saccone to inadvertently cast a ballot for Lamb.

The county received no such reports or complaints during Tuesday's election, Wolosik said.

“Additionally, once someone selects the candidate who they wish to vote for, the voting machine goes to another page where the voter is asked to review who their vote will be cast for and has the option to return to a prior page and change that selection,” Wolosik added. “If the confirmation page is correct, they confirm and they cast their ballot.

“There are numerous opportunities to correct an error, or to notify the poll workers of problems with a machine.”

Wolosik dismissed a second allegation that GOP attorneys had been wrongfully denied the right to observe the tabulation of ballots at the county's election warehouse on Pittsburgh's North Side.

Two people showed up at the warehouse without the signed authorization required by the election code, Wolosik said.

One left and one stayed, Wolosik said, and the one who stayed was “immediately sworn in and given full access to the process” once he provided the required authorization — a handwritten note signed by Republican Committee of Allegheny County Chairman D. Raja. Raja did not immediately return a call for comment.

The NRCC accused the county of violating elections code by depriving “the campaign of the right to have counsel present during the computation reporting process,” according to a letter dated Wednesday from Rick for Congress campaign attorney Kathleen Gallagher to Allegheny County Solicitor Allan Opsitnick. The letter argued that attorney Russell Giancola was permitted only after complying with the county's “unprecedented” and “inappropriate” preconditions.

Pennsylvania Department of State spokeswoman Wanda Murren dismissed a third claim that the state's polling location website had been confusing voters as to whether they lived in the 18th District relevant to Tuesday's election. New, renumbered districts drawn by the state Supreme Court are set to take effect in May.

Polling locations for individual voters will not change.

Murren said voters can find where their polling place is located by using the agency's voter-registration website, but the site does not specify the congressional district in which they live.

“That information is available every day,” Murren said. “There was some confusion because some people thought because they got information about their polling place, they could go there to vote.”

The NRCC sent letters to the district's four counties — Allegheny, Washington, Westmoreland and Greene — requesting that officials confirm they are complying with elections' equipment preservation requirements — namely, impounding all voting machines until the election is certified.

By late Wednesday, officials from all four counties told the NRCC that they had, indeed, complied and impounded their machines, Martin said.

©2018 The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.