Probe blames Luzerne County’s November ballot paper shortage on inexperience, poor training
A prosecutor’s review of voting problems in a Pennsylvania swing county where ballot paper ran out last year found no evidence of criminal activity or purposeful efforts to prevent voting, according to a new report that blamed inexperienced supervisors.
Luzerne District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce’s 24-page review said only one Elections Bureau supervisor had more than a month’s experience when the November vote was held — and that person had only been there about a year. He said inexperience and inadequate training created a vicious cycle.
Luzerne was won by Democrat Josh Shapiro by barely one percentage point in the November contest for governor. In the most recent presidential contests in the northeastern Pennsylvania county, Donald Trump easily beat Hilary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020.
“As personnel and experience dwindles, the work is accumulated among the fewer and fewer remaining workers or new workers making the tasks on each person more voluminous, the job more stressful and the position less attractive to potential employees,” he wrote in the report, which was also signed by two of his deputy prosecutors and five county detectives.
Sanguedolce said Tuesday that meetings about the next steps are ongoing, including “how to move forward and prevent it from happening again.” That may include deploying county workers in other departments to help with elections as well as potentially hiring a consultant to improve procedures.
What Sanguedolce’s report called a “catastrophic oversight” resulting in the Election Day shortfall of paper for ballots in Luzerne, a swing county in northeastern Pennsylvania, was also the subject of a three-hour hearing in March by the U.S. House Administration Committee.
The ballot paper problems prompted a judge to keep polls open for two extra hours, contributed to a delay in reporting election results and was the topic of contentious public meetings, as well as Sanguedolce’s investigation. He blamed the lack of sufficient paper on incompetence and said he found no evidence of any sort of cover-up.
“Although a glaring mistake, the omission was not intentional,” the report concluded. “The parties involved were obviously distressed by the error and resulting effects.”
Ballot paper problems caused voting to stop, at least briefly, in 16 of the county’s 143 polling locations, in some cases just until they could turn to the use of emergency or provisional ballots, Sanguedolce’s investigative team found.
“The steps of ensuring the correct paper was on hand, ordering that paper if not on hand, and then loading sufficient quantities of that paper into the cabinets were missed by all officials tasked with such responsibilities throughout the process,” investigators concluded. In prior elections, that duty had been performed by the county’s elections director, who at the time of the November election was a woman in the position for just a couple months.
Sanguedolce, an elected Republican, said there was no basis for some claims that the problems were concentrated in GOP areas.
The review also found nothing to support claims that voting machines had been tampered with, that paper had been removed intentionally or that there was a deliberate effort to not order sufficient ballot paper.
“We find the allegation that the shortage was the result of a premeditated plan to be unsupported by any evidence,” according to the report.
The report said there was validity to a complaint aired during the congressional hearing -- that a voter arrived at a Hazleton polling place shortly after 8 p.m. but the doors were locked, even though a judge had extended voting until 10 p.m. In that case, the judge of elections told investigators no one was able to stay past 8 p.m. and they were unable to reach the county elections office, the report said.