Leaders call on Berks ‘to honor’ incorrect voting deadline sent to voters as county establishes new proofing protocol
Berks Commissioners said there was not enough review of voter materials to catch incorrect voting deadline in Spanish-language instructions.
(Reading) —Civic groups and two state lawmakers are calling for Berks County to accept ballots more than two weeks after the Nov. 2 election day, “to honor” the incorrect deadline stated in Spanish-language ballot instructions sent by the county to thousands of voters.
County commissioners said Thursday they can’t extend the deadline, but are working to correct the problem and prevent it from happening again.
Some 17,000 voters received the wrong voting deadline in Spanish-language instructions. The ballots were sent to voters all across the county, regardless of their English language skills.
The correct deadline for ballots to be received by Berks County Election Services is 8 p.m. Nov. 2.
In a rally outside the Berks Services Center on Thursday, Democratic State Rep. Manuel Guzman Jr. of Reading said it doesn’t matter how many Spanish-speaking voters were misinformed.
“Even if one person is disenfranchised, because they received the incorrect information, that’s one person too many,” Guzman said.
Guzman was joined by fellow Democratic State Rep. Danilo Burgos of Philadelphia.
Inside the building, Berks County Commissioners discussed the issue, highlighting their efforts to get the correct information out to the community. Those efforts include visits to radio stations, letters to voters and a push on social media.
County Commissioner Michael Rivera was asked if the county could extend the deadline.
“We can’t do that,” Rivera said. “That’s set by statute, set by the state, so we can’t accept anything after 8 p.m. on Nov. 2.”
All election-related deadlines are set in the commonwealth’s election code, according to Wanda Murren, director of communications for the Pennsylvania Department of State.
Melissa McCleery, a spokeswoman for Make The Road, said the group would like the county to hold on to and set aside any ballots that are received after the Nov. 2 deadline. She said the group wants that so there can be a proper investigation to find out why those ballots were late.
In the commissioners’ election board meeting, Rivera proposed Election Services institute a new process for checking Spanish-language materials that is in line with how English-language materials are handled.
“So what I am proposing is that we use the same method that we do verifying any documentation that goes out in English that we use the same process in Spanish,” Rivera said. “In which you would have one person translate information, and two other people that double read.”
Commissioner Chair Christian Leinbach said he learned there was a disparity in how the information was checked when Rivera began looking into the issue.
“It was at that point that I became aware that it was different,” he said. “Basically, there was one person doing the Spanish and that is not a good strategy.”
The board voted unanimously to implement the new proofing process.
After the meeting, when asked why there were different processes in place for English and Spanish materials, county spokeswoman Stephanie Weaver said that was not the case for all documents.
There was not an official process for checking materials for either English or Spanish documents, she said.
Anthony Orozco is part of the “Report for America” program — a national service effort that places journalists in newsrooms across the country to report on under-covered topics and communities.