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Few answers to paper problem in Luzerne County

Newswatch 16's Chelsea Strub spent the day at the Luzerne County Courthouse as the vote-counting process moved forward.

LUZERNE COUNTY, Pa. — There are still questions about paper problems that plagued Election Day in Luzerne County.

The problem was so serious that a judge ordered every polling place to stay open for an extra two hours.

The voting process in Luzerne County is a two-step process. After you sign in at a polling place and your signature is verified, you are brought to one of many big screen machines. There, you push the candidates you want to vote for, click next, and continue.

You then review your choices and print a ballot with a QR-type code and your choices. That piece of paper then needs to be placed into a scanning machine for your ballot to be cast.

A specific weight of paper is vital for the voting process. At many polling places on Tuesday, the machines ran out of that paper before noon, and poll workers gave voters other ways to cast their ballots.

On Tuesday, the election board in Luzerne County started its meetings to review mail-in and provisional ballots — ballots that are not typical — and during a public comment portion of this meeting, it became clear that the issues on Election Day go way beyond a paper supply.

Voters, poll workers, and political party officials from both sides of the aisle sat in on the Luzerne County Election Board's adjudication meeting inside Penn Place the day after Election Day.

Many spoke up to the board and employees of the Election Bureau about the disappointment they had in its performance in the execution of Tuesday's general election. Dozens of polling places ran out of the essential paper needed to carry out the voting process.

"What happened yesterday was, at best, incompetence, and at worst, fraud and voter suppression," said Theodore Fitzgerald. "We have gone through a lot of headaches and Luzerne County in the national news. We have another black eye."

"I don't know what to say to any of you. This is an embarrassment to where we live. This is beyond politics, beyond politics. But we have failed this at every possible level. and I don't know how you expect the people to think that this is fair, whether it is or not, whether it was an honest mistake or not," said P.J. Pribula, chair of the Luzerne County GOP.

"What is of particular concern to my clients is the issue of how people were voting yesterday," said Kathleen Gallagher, counsel for the RNC and NRCC.

Some people who spoke out said they were told voters were using everything from sample ballots, provisional ballots, to plain paper to cast their votes.

Poll workers who were dealing with the problem, including Deborah Jordan of Sugarloaf, said besides not having enough supplies to carry out Election Day, there was no clear guidance on how to solve the problem to allow voting to continue.

"We called and said, 'What do we do? How do we do it? What's the matter?' We proceed for as many phone calls that we made; we got that many different answers. So I implore the board, the Council of Luzerne County, and the bureau to please, going forward, can you just make sure you have all your ducks in a row?" Jordan said.

About 10 people made public comments to the Luzerne County Board of Elections and at this meeting but were not given any answers. They were asked to make appointments with members of the board after the ballot counting was over to get that answer.

Newswatch 16 spoke with members of the Luzerne County Council to get their take on what happened.

"It's more than embarrassing. It's very frustrating. We know we've had problems in the past. I believed that they were making efforts to correct all those problems and have a great election. We voted to get that machine to them. We purchased that machine to help them with the election. We gave them additional personnel," said Tim McGinley, (D) Luzerne County Councilman.

Watch Chelsea's 6 p.m. story:

Randy Robertson, the Luzerne County Manager, wouldn't stop to speak with Newswatch 16 about the concerns of the public. He said a press release would be coming out later at the advice of the district attorney.

"I don't care how many months he's been. He's the manager for Luzerne County. He has a responsibility. He has a big-time job. He's getting a big-time salary. There's no excuse. I could see the first day or two weeks or something. He's been here long enough that he knows where we have issues," McGinley said.

Members of the county council say the paper problem will be addressed at the county council meeting at the courthouse on Wednesday night.

"I think the next step is to definitely launch a full investigation. I know the district attorney is involved at this point. And I would like to see council possibly reconvene our election inquiry committee," said John Lombardo, (R) Luzerne County Council vice chair.

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