WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — There are late breaking developments Thursday in an ongoing federal investigation into mail-in ballots in Luzerne County.
The United States Attorney David Freed sent a letter to county officials late today with the latest findings of that investigation. Freed is raising serious questions about how those ballots were handled now, and in the June primary.
The three-page letter from Freed was sent to Luzerne County Manager Dave Pedri, County Council Chairman Tim McGinley and District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis. It details what the FBI and state police uncovered thus far in the investigation that was launched last week.
The probe found that nine military ballots were discarded, seven of those ballots which were found outside of envelopes, were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump.
In addition, the letter indicates that four apparently official barcoded absentee ballot envelopes were also recovered. They were empty .Federal investigators say the majority of the recovered materials were found in an outside dumpster. Possibly one of the dumpsters located outside the county’s Penn Place office building. The Bureau of Elections is located inside Penn Place.
The U.S Attorney points out that the appropriate method for processing military ballots is to secure the ballot unopened until such time that ballot pre-canvassing can begin which cannot take place until 7 a.m. on Election Day.
Freed writes: “The preliminary findings of this inquiry are troubling and the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections must comply with all applicable state and federal guidance, to ensure that all votes, regardless of party, are counted to ensure an accurate election count.”
Freed also writes: “Even though your staff has made some attempts to reconstitute certain of the improperly opened ballots there is no guarantee that any of these votes will be counted in the general election.”
Freed adds that all or nearly all envelopes received in the election office were opened as a matter of course. That elections staff told investigators that the envelopes used for all military, absentee and mail-in ballot requests are so similar they believed that keeping them unopened would cause them to miss such ballot requests.
Freed points out “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. It is imperative that the issues identified be corrected.”
Freed ends the later by offering to meet with county officials as well as District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis to discuss these issue. The investigation is ongoing.