Luzerne County receives machine to speed up mail-in ballot counting

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — With the general election fast approaching, questions and concerns remain about how long it could take to count mail-in ballots across the commonwealth, more than 2.3 million of which have already been sent.

To help speed up the process, the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections has obtained a high-tech machine that can open the envelops containing mail-in ballots. The Director of the Election Bureau tells Eyewitness News it will reduce the amount of time it takes to count votes by a day or more.

“It could save us days and we can have the results in much quicker that we did in the primary because it took so much manpower manually opening those envelopes,” Shelby Watchilla, director of the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections said.

The OM-306 Envelope Opener will play a big role in tabulating the 70,000 or so ballots the county expects to receive back.

“Well, this machine is able to open envelopes that we had opened by hand in the primary at a rate of 30,000 to 40,000 per hour. So it should cut back on the amount of time it takes us to go through and open envelopes. It does not damage, we’ve done lots of tests, it doesn’t damage the inner envelope or the ballot,” Watchilla said.

Watchilla used old mail-in ballots to demonstrate how the machine works. She says the machine can open an outer envelope an inner envelope, in this case the secrecy envelope, but it does so separately. However, the sheer number of ballots is expected to cause challenges.

“It is a very daunting task we have received thousands and thousands well over 20,000 we sent out 70,000 or more ballots,” Watchilla said.

Keith Gould, a member of the Luzerne County Board of Elections which oversees the election bureau expects the machine to be a big help.

“Well, we were here days as the board we observed, it’s called the pre-canvassing where they open them. We observed that in the primary and it took days. We sat here for days. This is going to turn it into not even a full day. I would assume,” Gould said.

The envelope opener cost about $7,000, which county officials say came from the Federal CARES Act funding.

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