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Lehigh County will have ballot drop boxes regardless of lawsuit

  • Hayden Mitman/WLVR

Mail-in ballot boxes are a point of contention in Lehigh County. A lawsuit even seeks to determine what times they could operate in the next election.

But County Executive Phil Armstrong says that regardless of a lawsuit filed by a group led by former Trump administration officials, the county will use its five drop boxes in the upcoming election.

“I think that democracy, the idea of this, is to make sure everybody gets a say in government and this is how you get a say,” Armstrong said.

County District Attorney Jim Martin had expressed concerns this week, saying he wanted the boxes monitored in real time by a person, suggesting staffers from the county elections office do so.

Martin’s office found last fall more than 300 people deposited more than one ballot in the boxes — a violation of state law — though he admitted they likely were cases of spouses dropping off ballots for loved ones and not cases of intentional fraud.

“We have no evidence that ballots are being harvested in any great numbers,” Martin said in an interview this week. “We observed, in respect to the November election, in the vast majority of cases, the individual that was depositing more than one was only depositing two.”

He did not prosecute anyone for violating the single ballot rule in last year’s general election.

Martin’s stance is in line with the lawsuit filed by the America First Legal Foundation — an advocacy group founded by former officials from the Trump administration — in that it seeks to limit drop box usage to “normal business hours” of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Martin said he was worried about the safety for people using the county’s only 24-hour drop box in evenings and even noted that an incendiary device — or chemical weapon — could be deposited into the box, as it’s a receptacle outside the entrance to the Lehigh County Government Center.

But Armstrong said that area is well lit. It’s near PPL Center, which is active in evenings — and the entire area is under constant video surveillance.

The box already is protected against an attack, too.

“The slot is made so that could not happen,” Armstrong said. “That was specially designed to prevent anything like that.

Leading up to this year’s primary election, Martin occasionally had law enforcement officers stationed at county ballot drop boxes to enforce the single ballot rule, but has softened his stance.

In a letter to Armstrong and the county election board, he suggested a Voter Registration Office employee monitor the ballot boxes, instead of a law enforcement official.

But County Controller Mark Pinsley said either way, Martin is trying to intimidate voters.

“I believe that it should be easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Pinsley said. “And I don’t think we should make it hard to cheat by making it hard to vote.”

Pinsley, a Democrat who is seeking the 16th state Senate office held by outgoing Sen. Pat Browne, noted that there’s been no evidence of voter fraud.

He called the district attorney’s concerns “inconsistent and unnecessary.”

He also called on the county board of commissioners to formally reprimand Martin.

“Jim Martin has now linked arms with the worst of Donald Trump’s former lackeys including Stephen Miller in his quest to undermine faith in our elections and a secure method of ballot collection,” Pinsley said in a news release. “We shouldn’t stand for our officials doing the bidding of the MAGA movement.”

Pinsley said 76% of those who vote by mail in Lehigh County are Democrats.

“This isn’t about securing elections, it’s about making it harder for certain people to vote in them,” Pinsley said.

Martin’s office told WLVR News that he was unavailable when contacted for comment.

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