The official overseeing elections in the state of Pennsylvania claimed Wednesday that the nine military mail-in ballots discarded before being found outside a dumpster weren’t a case of “intentional fraud.”
“From the initial reports we’ve been given, this was a bad error,” Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, said during an online news conference. “This was not intentional fraud. So training, training, training.”
Luzerne County officials said last week that the person who discarded the ballots appears to be a temporary contractor who was subsequently removed from service and told not to return.
FBI agents found the nine ballots after launching an investigation based on a tip from county officials. Seven of the nine were cast for Republican President Donald Trump.
Four “apparently official, bar-coded, absentee ballot envelopes that were empty” were also discovered, David Freed, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, wrote in a letter to the county Bureau of Elections.
Freed directed the county to change its practices after the issues were unearthed, calling what happened “troubling.”
“Our interviews further revealed that this issue was a problem in the primary election—therefore a known issue—and that the problem has not been corrected,” he said.
Jonathan Marks, the Pennsylvania deputy secretary for elections, joined Boockvar in downplaying the situation, telling the briefing Wednesday that in some cases, military and overseas ballots arrived in Luzerne County inside envelopes that do not clearly mark them as ballots.
The usual process when those types of ballots arrive is to immediately reseal them and store them securely with other mail-in and absentee ballots to await canvassing, he said.
“So it sounds like it was confusion,” Marks said.
The Department of State is working on training for Luzerne County elections workers on what to do when they find balloting material inside an unmarked envelope.
“That’s what needs to be tightened up,” Marks said.
The unidentified worker, who officials have said was fired as a result, did not consult with others in the elections office, Marks said.
The Pennsylvania Department of State said in a statement earlier Wednesday that “mail-in ballots are secure” and “many PA voters have used the mail to vote by absentee ballot.”
Trump drew attention to the discarded ballots twice during this week’s presidential debate as he highlighted how he sees the unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots being sent out as “a disaster.”
“They’re sending millions of ballots all over the country. There’s fraud. They found them in creeks. They found some, just happened to have the name Trump just the other day in a wastepaper basket,” he said.
Some Trump critics called the Department of Justice press release announcing the existence of the discarded ballots unusual.
“This is an ongoing investigation where there is no public interest reason to override the usual policy of not commenting—and especially not to say for whom the ballots were cast. An unprecedented in kind contribution to the president’s campaign,” Matthew Miller, a former spokesman for the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama, said in a statement.
Dawn Clark, a spokesman for Freed’s office, told The Epoch Times via email, “We have no further comment. Our statement and letter contain facts and speak for themselves.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.