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Election Board deadlocks on ballot curing, leaving status quo in place

In this image from online video, from right, Election Board members John Trescot and Christina Hausner and Lancaster County Solicitor Jackie Pfursich listen to Elections Chief Clerk Christa Miller during a meeting on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. (Source: Lancaster County)

Lancaster County will not change its rules to allow voters to “cure” their mail-in ballots.

On Wednesday, toward the end of a roughly two-hour meeting, Election Board member Christina Hausner voted against fellow board member Commissioner John Trescot’s proposal to allow voters to correct errors or omissions on their mail-in ballots’ outer envelopes.

With Trescot voting for his motion, the result was 1-1, which meant the motion failed. The third Election Board member, Judge Jeffery Wright, was recovering from a case of Covid-19 and was absent.

The text of Commissioner John Trescot’s proposed resolution to allow limited ballot curing. It failed to pass after a 1-1 vote at Wednesday’s Election Board meeting.

Hausner, the former county solicitor, proposed a second motion to allow voters to cast provisional ballots at the county Election Office before Election Day if their mail-in ballots are rejected. (Mail-in voters can receive automatic notification of their ballot’s status if they provide an email address or cell phone number.)

It also failed 1-1, with Hausner voting in favor and Trescot against.

Ballot curing is a controversial issue in Pennsylvania politics. A dozen counties allowed it last November; opponents say it is not specifically authorized by state election law, and should be proscribed.

Hausner said she doesn’t support putting a list of voters online, as Trescot’s proposal called for, and is reluctant to change policy as a temporary appointee to the board.

Trescot said he approached the issue from an engineering perspective and that he talked to various officials about how to help people without “unduly burdening” the system or “twisting around” existing policy.

“One thing I absolutely know is that these people (who made errors on mail-in ballots) wanted to vote,” he said. “They wanted their votes to count.”

During the discussion before their vote, Hausner and Trescot heard from about a dozen of the several dozen community members who attended the meeting. They included Trescot’s fellow county commissioners, Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino.

The two Republicans are seeking re-election this year, which is why Hausner and Wright have temporarily taken their positions on the Election Board. Trescot, a Democrat appointed last year, is not seeking re-election, and will step down at the end of 2023.

Both commissioners expressed disapproval with the way the legislature and the state courts have left the state of election law. Parsons called Trescot’s proposal an “honorable impulse” to try to help people vote.

However, Parsons said, cautioned against the current Election Board making a “substantial shift” from prior board policy.

“It opens the door to anything that the board wants to do,” he said. “Think carefully about the precedent you’re setting.”

“The goal of making sure that all registered voters are able to vote … is absolutely good,” D’Agostino said. “That’s what we do in America, but we also have to follow the law.”

When a mail-in ballot is submitted, it is a cast ballot, he said.

“It’s supposed to be secured, put into a secure location,” D’Agostino explained, warning of a “Pandora’s Box” that could be opened by county election boards making changes in balloting. He cautioned against “doing things on the fly.”

Trescot agreed that state officials have defaulting on their responsibility to offer a single statewide standard.

Resident Joe Wyle, who serves as a judge of elections, said mail-in ballots can be confusing. He characterized a mistake such as a wrong date as a “gotcha” way of throwing out ballots.

“As a local judge of elections, I make sure it’s done correctly,” he said. “That same (opportunity) should be afforded to anyone who sends in a ballot.”

Jerry Hennigee suggested that not having the proposed curing process could increase disenfranchisement among voters.

“I see no integrity issues with the proposal,” he said. “We will all benefit.”

Others disagreed.

“Facts are stubborn things,” said Danielle Lindemuth, suggesting that ballot curing would only benefit a fraction of a percentage of voters in the county, and would give “special privileges” to mail-in voters who, she said, already get to cast a vote without visiting a polling place.

Lindemuth is an Elizabethtown Area School Board member and a chapter leader of FreePA, a conservative grassroots group. She and her husband, Stephen, were actively involved in “Stop the Steal” efforts after the 2020 election.

“It’s a gateway to allowing other things to happen,” she said of Trescot’s proposal. “Why are you pushing for something that a month ago was just a conversation? … It’s something that is very controversial. People don’t want this.”

Wendy Velokas decried “laziness” in parts of the electorate and said it’s important to encourage the initiative to go to a polling place to vote for those who are able.

“If you look at society today – pride in America is declining,” Velokas said. “We are dumbing down society…being accurate doesn’t matter anymore. Parents are not as involved with their children anymore. They’re not teaching children about voting. … You’ve got a lot of kids who aren’t bothering to vote.”

At polling places, “there’s all kinds of help,” she said. “You open this up, to one change, and then there’s the next change. … Pretty soon, we don’t even know what we’re doing anymore …

“We are becoming way too tolerant of mistakes,” she said.

Maintaining the status quo means that voters whose mail-in ballots are rejected can vote provisional ballots on Election Day. With his ballot curing proposal off the table, it’s incumbent on the county to inform voters clearly of that option, he said, suggesting signage at the County Government Center and a notice on the county website.

“We’re going to do a better job of letting people know,” Elections Chief Clerk Christa Miller pledged.