Editors Note: This letter from Warren County Director of Elections Lisa Rivett is an official response to a Request for Investigation of the November 5th General Election submitted by write-in candidate for commissioner Constance Zaffino. This letter was provided to The Allegheny Voice by Solicitor Nathaniel Schmidt at the direction of Commissioner Ben Kafferlin.
The text below is complete; the format was slightly edited to adapt to this medium. View a PDF version of the original letter here.
See also Warren County Solicitor Nathaniel Schmidt’s official response.
In response to the complaint from Constance Zaffino dated Nov. 18, 2019, and received by the Office of the District Attorney for Warren County, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 25, 2019:
To: Warren County District Attorney Robert C. Greene
Date: December 10, 2019
Dear District Attorney Greene:
Allow me, first, to preface this response with the following statements:
- Mr. Dan Glotz, Mr. Ed Burris, and Ms. Kim Exley are honest and highly respected in their respective positions as the Director of Planning and Zoning, the Director of Veterans Affairs, and the Director of Human Resources for Warren County.
- Mr. Glotz and Mr. Burris have, on other occasions, been appointed to the Board of Elections.
- All three of these employees of the County of Warren took their responsibilities on the Board of Elections very seriously, and acted with both integrity and impartiality.
In regards to the itemized list of concerns Ms. Zaffino raised in her complaint, allow me to respond to each individually:
1. “The lack of advertisement the fact that there were to be new machines for voting… .”
a. All meetings of the Warren County Board of Elections were advertised in compliance with the Sunshine Law.
b. Meetings to discuss the purchase or lease of the new voting machines (hereafter referred to as ballot-marking devices, or “BMDs’’) were no exception.
c. The Warren County Board of Elections advertised a March 7,2019 meeting in the Warren Times-Observer on February 28,2019, and an August 2, 2019 meeting in the Warren Times-Observer on July 26,2019. The July 26,2019, advertisement specifically stated the purpose of the meeting was “to discuss the contract for Warren County’s Voting System.” The Affidavits of Publication for both meetings which regularly issued with such advertisements are attached to this response.
d. The minutes of these meetings are available to anyone upon request.
2. “The lack of an adequate number of voting machines (BMDs) at each voting precinct…”
a. The statement that “most precincts had their machine numbers cut in half” is inaccurate. Not all precincts saw a reduction in the number of BMDs.
b. Commissioner Eggleston and I, as the Director of Elections, had many conversations to determine how many new machines would need to be purchased and/or leased prior to the fall election.
b. i. Many of these conversations all took place in 2018, when it was learned the Comities would be required to buy new machines.
c. Due to the high cost to the county involved in the purchasing/leasing of new BMDs, Commissioner Eggleston recommended to the Board of Elections during the publicly called meetings the numbers we discussed during those meetings purely as a cost-saving method. I recommended the same numbers to the Board of Elections for acquisition.
d. There was absolutely never any comments or suggestion from Commissioner Eggleston to me that a lower number of machines ordered would suppress votes.
3. “The lack of paper specific for the machines…”
a. Dominion recommends 32 lb. paper used for their printers. The printers can work with 20 lb paper; however, using paper with lower weight can cause the ballot to print slightly askew, causing scanning difficulties at the time of counting. At the time of counting on Election Night, all ballots that produced scanning errors were duplicated the next day as set forth in the response to Paragraph 12.
b. Along with the delivery of equipment from the Elections Office to each precinct prior to Election Day, each precinct was given additional ballot paper in their black supply bags. This paper was in addition to the amount of paper that was actually in the printers upon delivery to the precincts prior to Election Day. Each precinct was also sent 50 EPBs.
b. FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP: In regard to the statements that:
|i. Freehold Township had “30 sheets in each i. Again, as with all precincts, of their two machines,” ;||i. Again, as with all precincts, additional paper was sent to the polling place in their black supply bag. See item 3a (above) for more information.|
|ii. “when that paper was used they were unable to reach the Voter Registration Office,” and that;||ii . Once this precinct contacted the Elections Office to report that they were running low on paper, I immediately sent a poll worker known as a “rover/runner” there with more paper.|
Freehold Township resulted in a highly contested write-in race for Township Supervisor, such that the candidateswere not registered with the Elections Office, and the high level of voter anticipation was not expected.
|iii. “the township supervisor was contacted and opened the office and got copy paper,” and that;||iii. Due to the distance of that precinct from the courthouse, the poll worker who contacted the Elections Office asked if they could use regular copy paper in the meantime, and I advised that they could. A ream of paper was then retrieved for that purpose from the township office, which is the polling place for that precinct. Poll workers were told to use this paper until additional paper arrived.|
|iv. “the lead person for Freehold was also not present due to a death in her family,” and that;||iii. Due to the distance of that precinct from the courthouse, the poll worker who contacted the Elections Office asked if they could use regular copy paper in the meantime, and I advised that they could. A ream of paper was then retrieved for that purpose from the township office, which is the polling place for that precinct. Poll workers were told to use this paper until additional paper arrived.|
|v. “an untrained person was put in charge of the precinct”:||v. No untrained poll workers have ever been placed in charge of polls during an election. Martie Whitely, the elected majority inspector, stepped up at my request,and served as Judge of Elections in Freehold Township, taking the appropriate oath, during the election under investigation.|
c. CONEWANGO TOWNSHIP (WITH VOTING TAKING PLACE IN THE STARBRICK FIREHALL):
In regard to the statements that:
|i. “Conewango (at Starbrick) had 100 sheets of paper for their machines and used that prior to noon,” and that;||i. Again, as with all precincts, additional paper was sent to the polling place in their black supply bag. See item 3a (above) for more information. When the Judge of Elections notified the Elections Office that they were getting low on paper, a “rover/runner” was sent immediately to the precinct.|
|ii. “Lisa Rivett reported on November 8, 2019 a problem with the regular copy paper scanning.”||ii. There were, for the most part, no issues during the scanning of ballots printed on regular copy paper at the end of Election Night. However, because it wasn’t the weight certified by Dominion to work in the scanner, I was not sure prior to processing the ballots whether or not ballots printed on regular copy paper would work in the optical scanner used to scan ballots following an election.|
d. To address the paper availability issue in greater depth, I would add that my “rovers/runners” also had extra paper in their bags to hand out to precincts as the need arose throughout the day. They were able to provide extra paper to any precinct at any time it was necessary, as soon as the need was communicated from a precinct, for the duration of the day.
4. “The new machines reporting an error if you do not vote for as many candidates as possible in each category.”
A similar “error,” shown on BMD screens in the event that a voter cast a vote for fewer candidates than they could have in a given category, was present on the previous voting machines (hereafter known as “Accuvote” machines) as well.
i. On the previous Accuvote machines: if an undervote or a blank vote occurred, the race header was shown in red on the summary page when the voter finished, before they were able to submit their completed ballot. Voters would need to confirm that they meant to vote for fewer candidates than they could have in any category in which they did so.
ii. On the new (BMD) machines: the “hazard” icon (as opposed to an “error” message) shows up on each race where an undei*vote or blank vote occurs. THIS IS THE SAME CONCEPT, JUST A DIFFERENT FORMAT. To the best of my knowledge, this hazard message is built into Dominion’s software and was integral to their state and federal certifications, and the language or nature of the message may not be able to be changed.
iii. In regards to machines not indicating an overvote to voters on-screen: There are no warnings for overvotes because, like the old (Accuvote) machines, and contrary to Ms. Zaffinos accusation that there were overvotes, the new (BMD) machines do not allow overvotes to occur. Overvotes can ONLY occur on absentee ballots and/or hand-marked paper ballots (EPBs), which were individually reviewed by the Board of Elections.
5. ‘The lack of paper ballots at polling sites was a concern….”
a. Due to the unanticipated record voter turnout during this election, in order to reduce lines and long waits at precincts during Election Day, it was decided that poll workers should go ahead and offer Emergency Paper Ballots (hereafter referred to as EPBs) to voters unwilling or unable to wait to use a machine.
b. As soon as a precinct communicated to the Election Office that they were running low on EPBs, more were copied, as Ms. Zaffino states, “on the copy machines at the courthouse,” and those EPBs were delivered to each precinct that requested them by a “rover/runner” as quickly as possible.
c. EPBs have always been sent to precincts as a regular voting supply, to be used in the event that there are issues with voting machines, including but not limited to issues such as loss of power at a precinct rendering voting machines inoperable. This is mandated by the Department of State.
d. I send approximately 50 EPBs to each precinct during each and every election. For the most part, these ballots are unused, and unused EPBs are shredded at the conclusion of each election.
e. EPBs have always been printed on the copy machines in the courthouse, and on regular copy paper.
f. During the election under investigation, initially, voters were given a “secrecy” envelope in which to place each individual EPB in the event that they preferred to use an EPB rather than wait in line to use a machine. In time and, again, due to the unanticipatedly high voter turnout, we ran out of those envelopes and I instructed poll workers to have the voters using EPBs place their ballots directly into the ballot box as an alternative to a “secrecy” envelope. The only goal was to provide each voter privacy in regards to their completed ballots. Whether ballots were printed from a BMD machine or filled out by hand, their placement inside the sealed ballot boxes ensures that they were kept confidential.
i. When the ballot boxes were returned to the courthouse at the conclusion of the election under investigation, “hand-marked” ballots (“EPBs”) were separated from the ballots printed from BMD machines. This was done because, although they were scanned in with BMD-printed ballots for each precinct, they needed to be scanned separately on the optical scanner.
– This is because the requirements for the scanner to read hand- marked ballots are different from the ones printed from BMD machines. The BMD-printed ballots include a “QR” code, which the scanner reads. Without the “QR” code on hand-marked ballots, the scanner needs to be set to read individual marks rather than a “QR” code, and for that reason hand-marked ballots were scanned in one group by precinct, and BMD-printed ballots were scanned in another group. This had nothing to do with handling the two types of ballots incongruently, but rather to make the process of scanning each type of ballot, by precinct, as efficient as possible.
6. “Extremely long waits at polling places, many well over an hour and at least one up to two hours….”
a. I agree that the lines – and, as a result, the wait times for voters from arrival at their polling places through completing their ballot on a BMD – were extremely long at some precincts. We handled that as best we could, however, it was impossible to predict the significantly high voter turnout experienced during the election under investigation. The length of wait times for lines was not acceptable on a regular basis. That being said, every person that waited in line until it was their turn to vote was able to do so and had their vote properly adjudicated.
7. “Numerous printers broke down throughout the day….”
a. No printers “broke down” on the day of the election under investigation, and no printers were replaced. They all operated properly, but were simply running out of paper. Poll workers were unsure how to respond to popup messages on the BMDs, which occurred to notify them that the printers needed more paper. When they called into the Elections Office for help, either I or Rebecca LoPresti, the Dominion Support personnel, answered their questions.
8. ‘There were machines that did not work when turned on at 7 a.m…”
a. All of my precincts are required to call in to the Elections Office on Election morning by 6:30 a.m. to notify me that they are “up and running.” This procedure was put in place shortly after I became the Director of Elections for Warren County. This procedure was put in place for two reasons, specifically:
i. So that I can be aware that everything is correctly set up, configured, and prepared to begin recording votes by 7 a.m., and
ii. So that if a precinct is having problems, with voting equipment or otherwise, we have time to “walk them through” a “fix” in order to have them correctly set up, configured, and prepared to begin recording votes by 7 a.m.
b. All precincts called in by 7:00 a.m. on Election Day to confirm their machines were running, including Pleasant Township.
9. “Handwritten votes from Freehold Township’s polling place were put into ballot boxes, and that Ms. Zaffino could not confirm having seen them during the counting of write-in and absentee ballots from that precinct..
a. Mr. Alan Smith, of Freehold Township, was in fact present at the official count meeting. Mr. Smith stated during that meeting that he was told a couple voters in his township had voted on a blank piece of paper, and that he wanted to see those ballots to ensure that they had been counted. After much discussion, as well as a phone call to the person who had shared this information with Mr. Smith, it was determined that that the voters in question had actually voted on an Emergency Paper Ballot (EPB), and that those ballots had been counted with the others from Freehold Township. The EPBs in question were put into the ballot boxes (as discussed in item 5f, above) upon completion, just like all of the ballots countywide, regardless of whether they were hand-marked or BMD- printed which, I’ve already established in item 5f above, was acceptable in order to ensure confidentiality of the completed ballot.
10. “Inconsistency with information on, and concerns over Commissioner Eggleston’s access to, the warrenvotes.com website..
a. The warrevotes.com website was originally created and designed by Commissioner Eggleston several years ago. I have no reason to believe Commissioner Eggleston accessed the website on Election Night I personally entered the results on Warrenvotes.com after all the ballots are counted. Commissioner Eggleston has never assisted with this and he did not on the night of this recent election. The numbers posted for this election are accurate and identical to those generated by the ballot counting process in the Election Office at the end of the Election.
b. Each election, I enter all candidate data to the website in order to create the database and prepare for the entry of Election Day data.
c. Data entry into the warrenvotes.com database began as individual precinct ballots were being scanned. Some precincts did not have any EPBs, while others had a large number of EPBs.
i. Ballots were scanned by precinct beginning with BMD-printed ballots. Following the scanning of all BMD-printed ballots for a given precinct, data from those ballots was then entered into the warrenvotes.com database.
ii. Following the scanning of BMD-printed ballots for a precinct, that same precinct’s EPBs were then scanned. After the scanning of all EPBs for each precinct was completed, data from those ballots were entered into the warrenvotes.com database.
iii. Finally, absentee ballots for each precinct were scanned, and data from those ballots was entered into the warrenvotes.com database.
iv. By midnight on Election Night, we were unable to get warrenvotes.com completely updated to reflect data from all BMD-printed, hand-marked (EPB), and absentee ballots for every precinct countywide. At that point, we concentrated simply on getting all of the ballots scanned that we were able to. We finally finished scanning at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, November 6.
v. BMD-printed, hand-marked, and absentee ballots are scanned separately because the requirements for scanning BMD-printed and hand-marked ballots are different. You can see the note following item 5/f/i (above) for more information on the requirements for scanning BMD-printed versus hand-marked ballots.
vi. The scanning of all ballots, including BMD-printed, hand-marked, and absentee ballots – for all precincts countywide – was completed by the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 6 (the day following Election Day for the election under investigation).
vii. At that point, I personally and singularly updated warrenvotes.com to reflect all data from all ballots countywide so that the website would be able to offer county residents complete, up-to-date elections results.
11. “Write-in votes with incorrect first names for me were not counted….”
a. In fact, many write-in votes for Ms. Zaffino were counted by this Board of Elections that may not have been counted with previous Boards of Elections. In the past, Boards of Elections have not accepted only the last name of a candidate on a ballot as an acceptable vote for that candidate.
b. The Board of Elections has been instructed to consider reasonable voter intent when they make their decisions to accept or deny write-in votes for any candidate. This decision is completely up to members of the Board of Elections, and the Director of Elections and the County Solicitor can only make recommendations in the matter.
c. The County Solicitor (Nathaniel Schmidt), is present during the process only to interpret the law should the need arise, not to participate in decisions regarding the acceptability of write-in votes as they appear on individual ballots.
d. In regards to the statement that “there was a gentleman running for Township Supervisor by the name of Charles Morrison,” and that “Charlie, Charles, Chuck, all were accepted,” and that “PeeWee (no last name)” was accepted as a write-in vote for Mr. Morrison because “he goes by this ‘nickname’”, Mr. Morrison communicated with the Elections Office prior to the election regarding different name variations, including “PeeWee”. This reporting of name variations has been a practice of the Elections Office for many years and is not limited to Warren County. Other write-in candidates also submitted name variations prior to running for office, in order to ensure that write-in votes for any variation of their name that they thought might appear on a ballot would be counted. Ms. Zaffino did not pre-report to me that she went by the names of Carol, Cathy, or Cindy. The Board did not accept “Cindy Zaffino” because another Commissioner candidate, Cindy Morrison, shared that name, and “Cindy Morrison” received a significant number of write in votes. The Board felt voter intent could therefore not be determined.
12. “I have legitimate concerns about several of these people [helpers on the night of the election] maintaining professional boundaries as they have displayed a willingness to do other people’s bidding….”
a. This statement is factually inaccurate.
b. The three groups of people referred to by Ms. Zaffino were asked the day after the election to assist in the duplication of ballots which on Wednesday, November 8,2019, in the Commissioners’ Meeting Room, not the night of the election. Each participant took the oath of an election clerk prior to beginning the duplication.
i. Ballot Duplication is a process that addresses issues with hand-marked ballots that cannot be scanned for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to:
– Absentee ballots that are returned to the Elections Office in sealed secrecy envelopes that are stained, torn, or otherwise unreadable by the scanner.
– EPBs printed on copy paper at the courthouse and delivered to those precincts in need of them on the day of the election under investigation.
- because the “tic” marks on some of these ballots were uneven, the optical scanner was unable to read them.
– The procedure for Ballot Duplication, in the event of ballots that cannot be scanned, is to have one voter who is a registered Democrat and one who is a registered Republican present for each group of three helpers. Each helper is sworn in by the County Solicitor. Groups are given one blank ballot (similar to an absentee ballot), and the original ballot, and instructed to duplicate the unreadable (by the optical scanner) ballots EXACTLY. Once all ballots in need of duplication have been duplicated thus, the original ballots are “struck through” so that they could not be counted in error. Duplicate ballots are then scanned into the system using the optical scanner. Duplicate hand-marked ballots were scanned with their respective precincts’ hand-marked ballots. Duplicate absentee ballots were scanned with their respective precincts’ absentee ballots.
* This procedure is done to remove the variable of human error from the hand-counting and hand-entering these ballots into the system. None of the folks who assisted with the procedure had any reason not to duplicate the ballots they worked on exactly.
I would like to conclude by making just a handful of personal comments in response to the overall complaint filed by Ms. Zaffino:
- I do not believe that any voter suppression took place during the election under investigation—nor, of course, during any other election since I have been Director of Elections for Warren County. I am not aware of any actions, comments, or intent by any person involved in the 2019 Warren County general election, before, during, or after Election Day, or any circumstances that indicate voter suppression took place or was attempted by any person.
- There absolutely were long lines for voters at many polling places throughout the county this is not repeated in subsequent elections. With that being said, however, I think it’s important to remember that with any new equipment a learning curve on the parts of both poll workers and voters needs to be taken into account.
- Poll workers present during the election under investigation attended all mandatory poll worker training; however, there is no way to simulate eveiy single scenario that may occur during the first election following the implementation of new voting equipment.
- Furthermore, the number of people who turned out to vote during the election under investigation was enormous, highly unanticipated, and an issue for which there was no easy fix during the election. The best we can do is to use what we learned during the election under investigation to improve the performance of poll workers, as well as voting equipment, in subsequent elections.
- I feel that everyone involved did the best job they could possibly have done during the election under investigation given the circumstances, unique issues and complications, and complex makeup of county wide issues encountered.
Lisa R. Rivett
Warren County Director of Elections
To see four exhibits attached to this letter, see the PDF version.