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I-Team: Luzerne County facing new issues with mail-in ballots for May primary

I-Team

WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Mail-in ballots are once again a concern for some in Luzerne County.

This comes in the aftermath of nine military mail-in ballots in Luzerne County being thrown away by mistake in the November 2020 general election.

Luzerne County election officials say some voters received a mail-in ballot packet with a return envelope back to western Pennsylvania. The I-Team reached out to counties all across our region Wednesday including Lackawanna County to check out their mail-in ballot operation. It appears this most recent problem in Luzerne County is a case of human error.

Jean Kowatch and her daughter Jennifer, both of Edwardsville, had just dropped off their mail-in ballots at Luzerne County’s Penn Place office building when the I-Team told them about the mail-in ballot issues.

“Pretty bad… I didn’t really know about it but I don’t know how they are going to fix it,” said Jean.

“I think it needs to be fixed, but it shouldn’t stop anybody from still voting,” said Jennifer.

Luzerne County election officials say they received calls from voters asking questions about their mail-in ballot packets as well as election officials from Mercer County. Luzerne County Director of Elections Bob Morgan says the company that the county contracted to handle the mail-in ballots, Election IQ, based in Ohio, made the error, not county employees.

“During the processing, apparently what happened, a few of the incorrect return envelopes were put into a Luzerne County mailing, so envelopes were returning their ballots to Mercer County instead of this address here in Luzerne County Bureau of Elections,” said Morgan.

Morgan is telling voters, “We will supply them with a ballot return envelope from Luzerne County so they can mail it to us or we would encourage them to use the four drop boxes that are located throughout the county. No need to go through the mail.”

The I-Team spoke with the vice president of Election IQ who apologized for the mistake and explained what happened.

“What it appears to be is unfortunate single human error with an employee trying to be extra efficient and get work out the door as soon as possible and in doing so, in cleaning up the materials from a previous job from Mercer County, grabbed a handful of envelopes. It ended up going into a box of Luzerne County envelopes so they were co-mingled,” Election IQ vice president Daniel Chalupsky said.

The I-Team spoke with Beth Hopkins, the director of the Lackawanna County Bureau of Elections. The county handles the entire mail-in ballot process.

“It’s labor intensive. We have a lot of measures in place so that doesn’t happen. We check and double check,” said Hopkins.

Morgan tells the I-Team that mail-in ballots received by Mercer County will be time checked and sent to Luzerne County, so the votes will be counted. He also says that the county used Election IQ last year and there were no problems. The I-Team checked with election officials in Union and Columbia County who also contract out to Election IQ and they tell the I-Team they have had no issues with their mail-in ballots.

The officials say that only a small number of people have received the inaccurate mail-in ballot return envelope. They explain that the problem was caused by a company contracted to handle mail-in ballot distribution.

The I-Team takes a closer look at the situation and if it will have an impact on the election next Tuesday. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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