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Lycoming County election official: changes needed

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Forrest K. Lehman. director of elections and registration of Lycoming County Voter Services, rescans absentee and mail-in damaged ballots from precincts ,at the Voter Services office in Williamsport on Thursday.

It almost goes without saying that 2020 became a challenging election year for voters and the personnel counting the votes.

Changes in voting procedures including the introduction of mail-in ballots became the center of controversy and calls for reform.

“Mail-ins changed the face of how we do elections,” Lycoming County Voter Services Director Forrest Lehman said. “It is an entirely different project. Normally, in the run-up to the election, we would be preparing equipment and documents.”

But the past election, he said, found Voter Services personnel dealing also with of what he described as “an explosion” of mail-in ballots with people lining up outside the downtown Williamsport offices in the days before the election.

“Counties everywhere were strapped,” Lehman said. “We didn’t have sufficient office staff. We still don’t.”

Lehman noted that many directors of county Voter Services offices became so overwhelmed that they quit their jobs.

“That should be a huge flare going up in the sky that something is dreadfully wrong,” he said.

Lehman said changes are needed in the voting count and preparation process. For one, he said counties must have more time to pre-canvas ballots. The application deadline for mail-in and absentee ballots also created a problem.

“A lot of people waited until the last day to apply,” he said. “That is why Pennsylvania had 100,000 provisional ballots.”

All those ballots, he noted, had to be manually reviewed and researched. Other issues that arose prior to the election included the introduction of drop-off boxes for ballots.

Lehman said it’s time to clear up all the confusion.

“I think the county is hoping the governor and Legislature and courts can create clarity on these things,” he said. “I’m not super optimistic about there being reform. 2020 is going to be with us a long time. There are still a lot of hard feelings.”

He noted that 2020 was a presidential election year which only added to the overall confusion and chaos.

“It may be a little easier for us this year because it’s the slowest year of the election cycle,” he said.

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