HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Nine military ballots that authorities said were mistakenly discarded by a contracted elections worker in a northeastern Pennsylvania county have been linked to specific voters and can be considered for counting in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Luzerne County Manager David Pedri said the ballot envelopes contained identifying information that enabled officials to figure out who cast them. The ballots will not automatically be tabulated, however. Pedri said the local elections board will give them “close and careful consideration" to make sure they are filled out properly.
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, whose office oversees voting in Pennsylvania, described the discarded ballots as a “bad error” but not a matter of intentional fraud. A spokeswoman for Boockvar said the Department of State has since provided training for Luzerne County workers about how to open election mail.
President Donald Trump has several times brought up the nine ballots in Luzerne County, which is in a part of the battleground state that he and Democratic candidate Joe Biden are heavily contesting. Trump has said he would lose Pennsylvania only if the election there is rigged against him, while Democrats counter that his campaign is trying to disenfranchise voters.
He brought up the Luzerne County ballots twice during the first presidential debate and during a radio show interview after federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania had notified the Justice Department about the investigation.
The Trump-nominated Republican U.S. attorney whose territory includes Luzerne County, Dave Freed, subsequently issued a news release saying that the ballots had been “discarded” and that all of them had been cast for Trump.
Freed later changed his statement to say two of the ballots had been resealed, so in those cases the presidential vote was not known to investigators.
Officials have blamed the decision to toss out the ballots on an unidentified and improperly trained contract worker who had been handling mail-in ballots for the county for two days. Other details remain unclear, including the worker's name, how the worker was hired, how the ballots ended up in the trash and the response by the county elections office.
Pedri said in an email that the FBI still has the nine ballots but has provided Luzerne County with copies. Freed declined to comment on the status of the FBI’s investigation on Tuesday, and it was not known why the agency continued to hold the original ballots.