Election follow-up continues with audit, provisional count

Venango County workers were still busy Tuesday with election-related tasks, including a 2% audit and counting the provisional ballots.

The audit was conducted by counting by hand 2% of the ballots cast Tuesday to double check that the voting machines were working properly.

If the recount matches the count tabulated by the machines, the county will know everything is working well.

Venango County elections director Sabrina Backer invited the county Democratic and Republican parties to each send three people to participate in the audit. Backer said she made the request verbally, by email and at a public meeting.

“We usually do the audit ourselves but we thought it would be a good practice to let the parties come in and do it for us,” Backer said. Hand counting the roughly 500 ballots would likely take a few hours, she added.

Jane Richey and Jeff Lehman, who are both affiliated with the Venango County Tea Party Patriots, were the only two local party representatives who answered Backer’s call to hand count ballots.

“Jane and Jeff are active in the community and have been educating people on how elections work. They have been good friends to the county elections office and good to work with,” Backer said.

“I wish more people would come in like you do, then they could trust the process,” Backer said to Richey and Lehman.

To conduct the 2% audit, Backer said at least 419 ballots must be counted either from one large precinct or several smaller ones.

Richey and Lehman chose to hand count the votes cast in Sugarcreek 2 (243 votes cast) and Oil City 2 (292 votes cast).

“People have to understand the process. If I can help in the process and tell people how it works…It’s great to be doing this here where you can see how the process is done right, unlike in some other areas of the country,” Lehman said.

Richey added, “the more eyes on the election, the more confidence there will be in it.”

Backer said the 2% audit was completed late Thursday afternoon, and the total from the hand count matched the total on the voting machines.

In the commissioners office, the election board, under the watchful eye of county solicitor Rich Winkler, went through the 158 provisional ballots cast Tuesday.

County commissioners Sam Breene, Mike Dulaney and Albert Abramovic comprise the election board.

Venango County elections coordinator Melanie Bailey said the board must look at each provisional ballot and see why the voter had to cast a provisional ballot as well as determine the proper course of action to take.

There are multiple reasons someone might cast a provisional ballot, Bailey said.

Provisional ballots are issued to voters whose name isn’t on the poll pad at the precinct where they go to vote. This could be because someone wasn’t registered to vote at all or they went to the wrong precinct, Bailey said.

Other reasons for a provisional ballot include a person not having their ID or choosing to vote in person but not bringing in their mail-in or absentee ballot to surrender at the polls, Bailey said.

If someone was required to bring in their ID to vote, which is the case when someone votes for the first time in a precinct, they have until Monday to bring their ID in to the elections office for their vote to be counted, Bailey said.

Decisions as to which provisional ballots are counted are up to the election board, according to Bailey.

Backer said the county has sequestered all undated or unverified mail-in ballots. Whether those ballots will be counted depends on the outcome of a lawsuit making its way through the courts now, she added.

In Venango County, Backer said they don’t “cure” ballots, a process of calling voters to correct errors in their mail-in or absentee ballots. She said this is because there is no way to guarantee all voters are treated fairly.

For example, Backer said if she calls a voter who picks up their phone and gives them the information to cure their ballot, but another voter with the same issue doesn’t pick up their phone when she called, the two voters would not be treated equally and given the same information.

Backer also praised the county’s newest addition to the county elections office, Laura Anna, who started Oct. 11.

“She is fantastic, she knows who to talk to and what to say. She has more knowledge of elections in three weeks than I would have expected from anyone,” Backer said.


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