100 WVIA Way
Pittston, PA 18640

Phone: 570-826-6144
Fax: 570-655-1180

Copyright © 2024 WVIA, all rights reserved. WVIA is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Luzerne County's new director of elections preparing for first presidential primary

Emily Cook stepped into the role of Acting Director of Elections for Luzerne County in February, after the previous director resigned.
Sarah Scinto
Emily Cook stepped into the role of acting director of elections for Luzerne County in February, after the previous director resigned.

As the 2024 Pennsylvania primary election approaches, Emily Cook is settling into her new role as acting director of elections in Luzerne County.

“It’s going well, we’re wrapping up our ballot proofing,” she said on a recent morning at the elections office. “We’ve got our supplies ordered, we have our paper for this election.”

Cooked stepped into the position in February, after the previous director resigned. She’s been with the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections since 2021.

The Luzerne County office has seen significant turnover in recent years, particularly in the director position. Cook says elections offices throughout the state are dealing with the same thing, and losing institutional knowledge each time a longtime employee leaves.

“I think part of it is due to the political climate that we live in…being an election worker at this point is not terribly attractive as a position,” she said. “You take a lot of hits in an election director role.”

According to the Associated Press, 40 of the state’s 67 counties have new election directors or deputy directors heading into the 2024 election.

That’s part of why Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt has been visiting every election director in every county before the primary. He stopped by Lackawanna and Luzerne County last Thursday.

“One of the biggest challenges is without a doubt the turnover in experienced election administrators at the county level,” he said after touring Luzerne County’s warehouse for voting machines and supplies.

A sign directs poll workers to E-Pollbook training at the Luzerne County Administrative Building in Wilkes-Barre.
Sarah Scinto
A sign directs poll workers to E-Pollbook training at the Luzerne County Administrative Building in Wilkes-Barre.

This will be Cook’s first presidential election with the office. She’s hoping to improve the election process in the county and learn from past mistakes. They’ve gotten back into the habit of regular debriefs with poll workers after any election, established election day liaisons at every polling location, and moved to electronic pollbooks.

Some of those improvements started after the general election in November 2022, when polling locations across the county ran out of ballot paper.

“Identifying points of failure in the past has been crucial to us creating a smoother operation,” Cook said. “We have been sending out messages with surveys throughout the (election) day so we get better feedback on what the needs of our poll workers are, where they’re at in terms of check-ins from voters and in terms of supplies.”

Still, Cook knows anything can happen on election day. With 186 precincts in the county, she worries about things outside of her office’s control.

“Luzerne County is not a small area…I have a map in the corner of my office that shows just how much distance there is between one point and another,” she said. “We’ve experienced a fire at a polling location or roadwork that’s shut down access…those are the factors I worry about, not the factors that are directly related to what we do in this office.”

Pennsylvania’s primary election is on April 23. The last day to request a mail-in or absentee ballot is April 16.

For more on Pennsylvania's primary election, tune in for Keystone Edition Reports: Primary Primer. Monday, April 1 at 7 p.m. on WVIA-TV.

Sarah Scinto is the local host of Morning Edition on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.

You can email Sarah at sarahscinto@wvia.org
Related Stories