Investigators recover discarded military ballots in Luzerne County

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Nine discarded military ballots have been recovered as part of a federal investigation into mail-in ballots in Luzerne County.

In late-breaking developments on Thursday, United States Attorney David Freed sent a letter to Luzerne County officials with the latest findings of that investigation. In it, Freed claims that election bureau officials did not properly handle mail-in ballots from military personnel.

The letter states, in part: “The FBI has recovered a number of documents relating to military ballots that had been improperly opened by your elections staff, and had the ballots removed and discarded, or removed and placed separately from the envelope containing confidential voter information and attestation. Specifically, a total of nine (9) military ballots were discovered to have been discarded. Seven (7) of those ballots when discovered by investigators were outside of any envelope. Those ballots were all cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump.

One (1) of those seven (7) ballots was able to be identified to an envelope that was recovered, and thereby potentially tied to a specific voter. Two (2) military ballots that had been discarded were previously recovered by elections staff, reinserted into what appeared to be their appropriate
envelopes, and then resealed. Therefore, the votes cast on those two (2) ballots are unknown. Thus, is appears that three (3) of the nine (9) recovered ballots can be potentially attributed to specific voters. Six (6) of the ballots were simply removed and discarded, and cannot be attributed to a specific voter at this time.

In addition to the military ballots and envelopes that were discarded and recovered as detailed above, investigators recovered four (4) apparently official, barcoded, absentee ballot envelopes that were empty. Two (2) of those envelopes had the completed attestations and signatures on the reverse side. One (1) envelope with a handwritten return address was blank on the reverse side. The fourth empty envelope contains basic location information and the words “affirmation enclosed” on the reverse side. The majority of the recovered materials were found in an outside dumpster.”

Click here to read the full letter.

Questions regarding possible issues with mail-in ballots in Luzerne County were raised on September 17 when county administrators contacted the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office with concerns about a small number of mail-in ballots.

District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis launched an investigation and on Monday, September 21 requested the U.S. Attorney’s Office take the lead in the probe. Since that time, according to the U.S. Attorney, the FBI and the state police have been conducting numerous interviews and recovered and reviewed certain physical evidence.

“At this point we can confirm that a small number of military ballots were discarded. Investigators have recovered nine ballots at this time,” Freed said in a statement.

“Of the nine ballots that were discarded and then recovered, seven were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump. Two of the discarded ballots had been resealed inside their appropriate envelopes by Luzerne County election staff prior to recovery by the FBI and the contents of those two ballots are unknown,” he continued.

The FBI and Pennsylvania State Police are both together on the on-going investigation.

Word of these latest developments have people talking.

“In this case we are not really sure about where they came from and what the issue was. Until we know more information,” said Betsy Sommers of Wilkes-Barre. “I’m a judge of elections. I’m going to my training. I will be at the polls to make sure it’s an honest and valid election.”

“The importance of mail-in ballots right now because we are in the middle of a pandemic to watch the process be disparaged by corruption is extremely disheartening,” said Mary Ann Valdez of Wilkes-Barre.

In his statement, Freed said the investigation is ongoing and he will be sharing their up-to-date findings with officials in Luzerne County. There are also concerns in Lycoming County with unsolicited voting materials being mailed to voters by both political parties and other groups not associated with the county.

Editor’s Note: The Department of Justice originally stated that all nine of the recovered ballots were cast for President Donald Trump.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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