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Berks County ballot recount petitions get first day in court

  • Robby Brod
Polls open at 7 a.m and close at 8 p.m. As long as you are in line to vote by 8 p.m., you are entitled to cast a ballot.

 David Maialetti / Philadelphia Inquirer

Polls open at 7 a.m and close at 8 p.m. As long as you are in line to vote by 8 p.m., you are entitled to cast a ballot.

A Berks County judge will soon determine whether election officials need to perform a hand recount in 30 precincts, at the request of the Berks County Republican Committee.

The county hasn’t certified midterm election results because of the committee’s petitions due to two petitions filed by the committee. They claim voting machines switched votes from Republican to Democratic candidates, based on anecdotes from voters. They did not allege any specific fraud.

On Thursday, Berks County Court of Common Pleas Judge James Lillis heard arguments for about an hour from the committee and the county, and gave them until 4 p.m. Friday to provide more documentation. Lillis did not say when he would rule on the case.

Cody Kauffman, first assistant county solicitor, said the petitions should be thrown out as the recount process is to address specific fraud allegations, not for “fishing expeditions” to search for them.

If the petitions contained “actual evidence,” Kauffman said, “the county would likely feel very different about this issue.”

The committee’s attorney, Eric Winter, argued a recount is necessary because any tabulation errors detected would trigger a county-wide recount at all 202 precincts.

The committee made four requests in their petitions.

The first is a hand recount of all mail-in, absentee, provisional, and paper ballots created at the 30 affected precincts to compare those results with the machines at tose precincts

The county argued they weren’t required to re-count the ballots by hand, which Kauffman said would be inaccurate and costly, and were only required to offer a recount on a different machine than was used on Election Day.

Winter also requested a list of everyone who either voted using the affected machines or had their mail-in/provisional ballot tabulated by them, to make sure the number of registered voters comports with precinct totals.

Kauffman argued that request violates election code and falls outside the jurisdiction of a recount request.

The committee also requested to compare signatures on the outer envelopes of all mail-in ballots in the county to the signatures on record to minimize the risk of fraud. County Republicans did not allege any fraud existed.

The county argued that is also outside the scope of the recount request, which goes against Pennsylvania’s election code — including Act 77, which enabled no-excuse mail-in voting, drop boxes, and extended early voting windows, among other provisions. Kauffman referred to a Pa. Supreme Court case ruling which ruled invalidating ballots with improperly-signed ballots is unconstitutional

Lastly, Winter requested that all county voting machines and equipment be inspected by a to-be-determined representative, claiming “there could have been an error made” while technicians were programming the voting machines.

Kauffman said that request is beyond the scope of the petition, and could possibly compromise the security of the voting machines. He noted the Republican committee declined an invitation to witness the county’s pre-election tests of the voting machines, which found no errors.

“The county is essentially saying that dozens of people are either mistaken or wrong or are not telling the truth about what happened here,” Winter said after Thursday’s hearing. “And we believe our voters. And we want to make sure that if there are defects in these machines that they are investigated and corrected.”

Because the recount petitions are for the full ballot, Berks County’s midterm results are in a holding pattern until the petitions are resolved.

“We informed DOS about them and they were in agreement that we cannot certify any races with these petitions outstanding,” said Berks County spokesperson Stephanie Weaver.

The deadline to submit certified midterm election results was Nov. 28.

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