Glitches in Pa. voter services website not the result of ‘any malicious activity,’ state’s top election official says

Home / Glitches in Pa. voter services website not the result of ‘any malicious activity,’ state’s top election official says

Frequent glitches in the Pennsylvania Department of State’s voter services website have prevented potential voters from registering to vote or accessing other services that are available on the site.

It’s an issue that Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said on Wednesday the department is aware of and has a team of people working on to troubleshoot and address.

The exact cause of all of problems hindering voters access to the site is not yet known but “there is no evidence at this time to suggest any malicious activity,” she said in a Wednesday Zoom call with reporters. “We will continues, of course, to keep investigating.”

As a reminder, the last day to register to vote in the November election is Oct. 19 and that can be done online, by mail or in-person at county election offices.

Last week, she said the department mailed over 2 million postcards to Pennsylvanians who are eligible to vote but are not registered to encourage them to exercise their voting rights. The department first engaged in this voter participation exercise for the 2016 presidential election but department spokeswoman Wanda Murren said she is uncertain if it has been done again until this year.

The conversation with Boockvar covered a multitude of topics related to the upcoming election. Among them was the issue of “naked ballots” – or ballots that arrive in county election offices without an outer secrecy envelope. The state Supreme Court recently issued a ruling indicating that ballots that arrive that way are not to be counted.

Because the court has made that clear, she said her department is focused on raising awareness through social and paid media, emails and direct mail that ballots need to be “clothed.”

Boockvar also expressed appreciation for the creative ways other organizations are helping to get the word out about that. One of them was the campaign launched by three Allegheny County councilwoman who appear in a photo shirtless with graphics of mail-in ballots covering their chests to remind people not to send naked ballots.

Here are few of the other topics addressed during the call:

Three ways to vote: Boockvar reminded that voters can vote in three ways for the upcoming election.

They can show up to the polls in person on Nov. 3. About that, she said unlike the June primary when counties experiencing a shortage of pollworkers., this election will not have consolidated polling places. She said counties will return to having the same number or about the same number of polling places they had prior to the primary although some of the locations may have changed. All polling places, she said, will have hand sanitizer, masks, and other items on hand to prevent exposure to COVID-19.

Aside from in-person voting, voters can cast ballots by mail provided they apply for a ballot by Oct. 27. At this point, she said counties have approved more than 2.3 million applications for mail-in ballots and mailed out 1.9 million so far.

Or, Boockvar said if a county has printed its ballots, voters can vote early by showing up at their county election office during its regular office hours up through Oct. 27 and cast their ballot in person there.

Late arriving ballots: Boockvar doesn’t anticipate this issue to be as much of a problem in the upcoming election as it was in the primary mostly because counties are doing so earlier than the two to three weeks they went out prior to the June primary, she said.

Still, she emphasized that ballots must be mailed by Nov. 3 and received no later than Nov. 6 to be counted.

In the primary, she said only 60,000 of the 1.5 million mailed ballots arrived during that three-day period after the election. In that election as well as the upcoming one, she believes the majority of the mailed ballots will be arriving in the week before the election but voters can start mailing them as soon as they receive them.

She said she believes the majority of the mailed ballots, as was the case in the spring, will be arriving in the week before the election but voters can start mailing them as soon as they receive them.

Discarded military ballots in Luzerne County: Acknowledging that this incident, which has drawn national attention, remains the subject of investigation by federal officials among others, Boockvar said the issue appears to come down to a temporary worker who mistakenly discarded ballots that came from voters in remote parts of the world that didn’t look like other ballots.

Jonathan Marks, deputy secretary for elections, said ballots sent to military and overseas voters are delivered electronically and because they are sent out early, they “are special write-in ballots.They’re not the traditional optical scan or paper ballots that regular civilian voters would see. “

He said the department is working with the county to do training so those handling ballot materials learn the different mailings they might see that contain official ballot materials and what to do when they encounter those situations.

“That’s what needs to be tightened up in Luzerne County as far as I understand,” Marks said.

Boockvar added that this was limited to the actions of one temporary employee and was properly handled once that employee’s mistake was discovered.

“The investigation is still going on but from the initial reports we have been given, this was a bad error,” she said. “This was not intentional fraud.”

Legislative changes: With just a little more than a month from the election, Boockvar is still holding out hope that the Legislature will pass legislation that would allow counties to begin pre-canvassing the mailed ballots – meaning removing ballots from their envelopes, flattening them, and preparing them to be scanned – sooner than 7 a.m. on Election Day as the law currently allows.

“This is such an obvious win for voters, for candidates, for the state, for the nation to make sure that counties can process” mailed ballots earlier,’ she said. “It will allow for a prompt accounting and reporting of the vote and it should be completely non-controversial. It’s just a matter of figuring out how many days or weeks.”

Boockvar also would like to see more flexibility given to counties to assist with filling poll worker vacancies. She would like to see counties be allowed to begin earlier than five days before an election to fill poll worker vacancies. She also would like to see county residents regardless of whether they live in a voting district be allowed to fill poll worker vacancies elsewhere in their county.

“They both can still happen. They need to happen like this week,” she said.

What she hopes doesn’t happen is a restriction on the use of drop boxes – or satellite election offices – which counties have already begun to open or soon will, or “anything that restricts access to vote.”

Jan Murphy may be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.

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