After a three-hour congressional hearing and the testimony of two panels of witnesses, nobody seems to know for sure who failed to order enough ballots for the 2022 midterm election in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.
One thing is certain. Republicans are still hopping mad about it.
Committee Chairman Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) opened the hearing by stating that one-third of the county’s polling stations ran out of ballot paper on Election Day.
Steil said that voters had been “disenfranchised” by “actors” in Luzerne County and people deserve answers.
“Votes were suppressed,” he said. “Voters who waited to vote were turned away from the polls.”
Congressman Dan Meuser (R-Pa.) likened the situation to someone failing to bring the football to the Super Bowl or fuel to the Indianapolis 500.
Republican Strongholds Run Out of Ballots
In his testimony, witness James Walsh, a Luzerne County businessman and GOP activist, said 48 polling stations ran out of ballot paper.
All are located in areas that traditionally vote Republican by two-to-one margins or greater, he said.
On the advice of the Luzerne County Solicitor’s office, not a single county official accepted the committee’s invitation to come to Washington to testify.
They told the committee they did not want their testimony to interfere with a local inquiry.
County DA Investigating
The Election Day ballot paper shortage and other alleged missteps have been under investigation by the office of Luzerne County District Attorney Samuel Sanguedolce since November.
On March 29, Sanguedolce, a Republican, told The Epoch Times that the Election Code allows his office to investigate both criminal and non-criminal matters relating to elections.
He said he had detectives working on the matter, his report will be completed shortly, and the results of the investigation will be released to the public.
Sanguedolce said he watched the March 28 hearing online and felt that many of the criticisms leveled at Luzerne County election officials were “unwarranted.”
“Many of the statements were not first-hand accounts. There was a lot of loose, bar stool talk. Some things that were said will be shown by our investigation to never have actually happened.”
Running out of ballots as early as 7:30 a.m. on Election Day was just one of a number of Luzerne County’s problems that the Committee on House Administration looked into.
Witnesses Speak Out
Witness Darin Gibbons, an attorney with the Republican National Committee, testified that Luzerne County had mailed out over 900 duplicate mail-in ballots.
Gibbons reported that there were 4,400 more voter signatures in the poll book than ballots counted.
“Pennsylvania has a reputation for inconsistent election administration,” he said.
Upset by the disparity between the number of people who signed in to vote and the ballot count, Republican Jim Bognet, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress to represent a portion of Luzerne County, testified that the 2022 election was “a complete disaster.”
“Who had the responsibility to order the ballot paper? Four and a half months later we still don’t have any answers.”
Bognet stated that because of the shortage of ballot paper, his campaign did not get the total vote he expected from Luzerne County.
Voting difficulties on Election Day disproportionately harm Republicans because they strongly prefer same-day voting, he said.
Members heard from witnesses about a polling station in a heavily Republican area that closed two hours before the court-ordered emergency extended voting time of 10 p.m.
The committee was told of some voting machines not working correctly when the polls opened, even though they were tested and found fully operational the day before. One voting machine needed to be rebooted three times, according to a voter who was at the scene.
Witnesses complained of being forced to vote on computer paper hurriedly purchased by election workers at nearby office supply stores.
They said they saw piles of hand-voted provisional ballots lying around unsecured and unattended.
There were reports of a lack of power strips needed to plug in voting equipment resulting in voters having to wait in long lines to cast ballots.
Election workers at some polling stations reportedly told voters to leave them their phone numbers and go home and wait to be called to come back when more official ballot papers arrived.
The paper never came.
Rep. Laurel Lee (R-Fla.) stated that the federal Election Assistance Commission issued warnings to election officials across the nation about the potential of ballot paper shortages far in advance of the 2022 midterms.
Lee questioned why Luzerne County didn’t heed the warning and take steps to ensure its supply was adequate.
Several people who did manage to vote reported that no record of them having voted could be found when they checked the voting records in the days following the election.
Iraq war veteran Benjamin Herring testified, “I saw the first Iraqi election. We should not be behind 2005 Iraq.”
Herring said that he attended the Nov. 14 meeting of the Luzerne County Election Board where officials refused to answer any questions.
“Who are they accountable to? Who do they answer to?” he asked the hearing.
The witnesses’ stories moved Representative Joseph Morelle of New York, the ranking Democrat on the committee, to call Luzerne County’s handling of the election “inexcusable, tragic, catastrophic, and completely unacceptable.”
Morelle told the hearing that the Luzerne County Council, the entity’s governing body, comprises 10 Republicans and one Democrat.
However, Bognet pointed out that the County Bureau of Elections at the time had a three-to-two Democrat majority, and the acting director of elections at the time, Beth McBride, is a Democrat.
Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) expressed concern that legislatures in some states are “targeting for closure certain precincts in minority areas.”
The long lines that will be caused by such actions, she said, are “just as important as running out of supplies.”
How Much Federal Involvement?
Democrats on the committee proposed more training, better protection for election officials, and increased federal funding and oversight as ways to retain experienced poll workers and improve election administration.
Republican members said they supported better training and safety for poll workers and adequate funding for election administration.
But they emphasized that the running of elections is primarily a local and state responsibility.
Morelle retorted that the majority’s advocacy for the decentralization of election administration in favor of “state’s rights” is not helped by the “example” set by Luzerne County.
“The federal government doesn’t have to be everything to everybody,” said Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.).
Donald Trump won Luzerne County in 2016 and 2020 by double-digits.
In 2021, the population of Luzerne County was 326,053.