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“Making it Count” Investigating election security and safety

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Many political observers say this presidential election is like no other in the history of the United States. Adding to the intensity of the election is COVID-19.

A big concern expressed by voters in our region, and across the nation, is the security of the vote, including the mail-in ballots which are setting record numbers across the county.

We have been speaking to voters all over our region. The one concern and question we heard over and over again from those voters: “How can I be certain by vote will be counted? That my voice will be heard?”

The lines have been long for in-person early voting across the nation. Luzerne County saw more than 1,000 voters come to its Bureau of Elections located inside the County’s Penn Place Office building. Add to that the sending out of some 70,000 mail-in ballots.

“Well, it’s been a huge challenge. The mail-in ballot process because we didn’t know the amount of volume that we would get here in Luzerne County. and the numbers are staggering,” Luzerne County Manager Dave Pedri said.

And to complicate matters for Luzerne County, the revelation that nine military ballots had been thrown into the trash at Penn Place. A county manager discovered the situation and notified law enforcement. Federal authorities, including the FBI, are still investigating the matter.

“You know what? We made a mistake then but we learned and we got better. The Federal authorities are still looking into that matter but we are ready to go for this election,” Pedri said.

At this point in time, according to Pedri and state election officials, the military ballot incident appears to be a mistake and not a case of fraud.

“We did have the discarded ballot situation here in Luzerne County earlier this year but what we did is we started more training bringing in additional assistance. The Department of State is coming in we have additional cameras at Luzerne County Election Bureau,” Pedri said.

State Election officials say they are working with officials from all 67 counties in Pennsylvania to try to avert any issues with voting, both with mail-in ballots and in person voting at the polls.

“It’s not the Department of State, it’s not PEMA, it’s all of us, state police. We’re all going to be collaboratively doing this,” Kathy Boockvar, the Secretary of the Department of State, said.

“We do get intel from our partners and we share them with the counties on Election Day. We actually have a dash board so if we hear anything specific, reports of anything occurring in a specific county we would reach out to them proactively to let them know what’s going on in the event they are not already keyed into it,” Deputy Secretary PA Department of Elections and Commissions Jonathan Marks said.

Eyewitness News spoke with State Attorney General Josh Shapiro about voter fraud concerns.

“Look, I want all Pennsylvanians to know we are on it and that we are partnering at the local, state and federal level you make sure this is a smooth experience,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro urges all Pennsylvanians that if they “see something say something.”

“Look, if you go to vote and you see there is an issue you should just immediately report that to the local Judge of Elections that’s one of your neighbors who’s monitoring the polling place let them know they’ll be in touch with law enforcement right away,” Shapiro said.

State lawmakers tell Eyewitness News they are closely watching this election process and if need be.. would discuss potential legislation that would address any issues that would arise.

“We need to make sure there’s a confidence. 100 percent confidence that your vote is counted and that the election is credible. That’s what we are working for in Harrisburg,” Senator John Yudichak (I) 14th District, said.

“I feel confident that basically all eyes are on the process and that everything will go as planned and I mean it will be safe, secure and anyone who tried to mess around with it they will be prosecuted,” Representative Eddie Day Pashinski (D) 121st District said.

State and local officials point out that cases of voter fraud are very rare indeed.

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