The Cost of a Ballot Challenge in Tredyffrin Township . . . $2,614.60 plus posting a bond fee

The closeness of the election results, coupled with reports of voting machine malfunctions, has led to speculation about a possible vote recount in the Duffy-Heaberg special election.  As reported on the Chester County’s Department of Voter Services website, the unofficial election results indicate that Democrat Molly Duffy received 2,266 votes and Republican Mike Heaberg received 2,226 votes.

I have received several notices stating that the Republicans were challenging the election results of the special election and calling for a vote recount so . . .  I did some investigating in hopes of better understanding the process.  First off, I called the Chester County Department of Voter Services.  As of 3:30 PM today, Thursday, there has been no ballot challenge petition received for the special election or any other race in Tredyffrin Township.  Further, as was explained to me by a voter service staffer, it would be unlikely that such a petition would be received at this point in the election certification process. Why?  Here’s what I learned from a Chester County’s voter service staff member on the certification process.

The voter service ‘computation committee’ will meet for the first time tomorrow (Friday) to begin work on the 2011 Primary Election certification process.  This committee will take 2-3 days to sort through all the paperwork from the 226 voting precincts in the county (Tredyffrin Township has 17 voting precincts).  After sorting the paperwork, the committee begins with write-ins, absentee votes and reconciliation of ballots from each precinct in the county.  To complete the certification process will take the computation committee 4-6 weeks.  According to the voter services representative, it would be unlikely that someone would challenge the vote count until the certification process is completed.  It would appear that a candidate should wait until the election results are certified and pronounced  official. I asked if the reported malfunction voting machines would pose an additional time delay and the response was not likely.

Curious, I asked if there was such a thing as an ‘automatic’ recount of votes if the certification process indicated that a race was very close, say just a few votes separating the candidates.  The answer was no; there is no automatic recount; regardless of how close the election results.

Next question, how much does it cost to petition for an election recount?  I discovered that Chester County Department of Voter Services does not handle the money side of a ballot challenge and I was referred to the Chester County Prothonotary’s Office.  I called the Prothonotary’s Office and spoke to Elizabeth Doan, First Deputy.  Deputy Doan explained that the fee schedule for a ballot challenge is $153.80 per precinct.  Since the Duffy-Heaberg special election was for an at-large township seat, the petition charge is $153.80 for each of Tredyffrin’s 17 precincts or a total cost of $2,614.60.  Additionally, there is a bond fee of $50, which the applicant would need to petition to have returned.  It was unclear if the $50 bond fee was per precinct or a one-time fee; Doan suggested that I contact an attorney for clarification.

What did I learn from this exercise?  It would not appear to make sense to petition for a ballot challenge until after Chester County Department of Voter Services completes its certification process.  The computation committee has to first complete their certifying process before they can do a recount and that would be 4-6 weeks from this point.  I was cautioned throughout my conversation with voter service staff that the election result numbers on county website are unofficial until they are certified.

I hope that this clarifies the ballot challenge process and offers a timeline for the election results certification and the cost of a petition process in Chester County. 

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  1. So if it takes 4-6 weeks until certification, that takes us to July. Will Duffy not be able to take the seat until then?
    I would think that for an actual election race, not a primary, this could take immediate priority. Am I wrong in thinking this?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    As I understand it (assuming that the election results remain as they reported on the county website) I’m guessing that Duffy would be on the BOS by the end of June. May through August, there is only 1 BOSmeeting per month rather than 2 the rest of the year. I was told that the day that the county certifies the election results that she can be sworn in — in other words, Duffy will not have to wait until the next BOS meeting. Of course, they would still have the ceremonial swearing in at the next BOS meeting following the certification of the election results. It’s just that this way she could start work as a supervisor as soon as the results are deemed ‘official’. Heaberg remains the sitting supervisor until the election results are certified.

    [Reply]

  2. How about the cost of labor form the salaried officials? Figure a few hundred total hours and you are talking $10k+ . Glad they are putting our tax dollars to good use . You just counted the fees but the cost is in the labor if I am not mistaken.

    Someone should be embarrassed.

    [Reply]

    Ken Adams Reply:

    The candidate challenging pays the fees, obviously. Conceivably, the County could charge anything. They charge what they charge to defray, or pay for, the costs of re-tabulating the votes and to ensure every voter has had his/her say.

    This task falls under the purview of your “salaried officials” and one of the reasons they receive their salary.

    [Reply]

  3. Pasted below is the actual statute governing the computation and certification of the vote. It looks like there is a mandatory recount provision in sections (d)(1) and (e) in the event of “discrepancies.” I have never researched this issue, so I do not know what constitutes a “discrepancy.” I also do not know which of the various provisions apply to the voting system used by Chester County. Perhaps someone with election law experience can offer some insight?

    25 P.S. § 3154

    Purdon’s Pennsylvania Statutes and Consolidated Statutes Currentness

    Title 25 P.S. Elections & Electoral Districts (Refs & Annos)

    Chapter 14. Election Code (Refs & Annos)

    Article XIV. Returns of Primaries and Elections (Refs & Annos)

    § 3154. Computation of returns by county board; certification; issuance of certificates of election

    (a) The county board shall, at nine o’clock A. M. on the third day following the primary or election, at its office or at some other convenient public place at the county seat, of which due notice shall have been given as provided by section 1403, publicly commence the computation and canvassing of the returns, and continue the same from day to day until completed, in the manner hereinafter provided. For this purpose any county board may organize itself into sections, each of which may simultaneously proceed with the computation and canvassing of the returns from various districts of the county in the manner provided by this section. Upon the completion of such computation and canvassing, the board shall tabulate the figures for the entire county and sign, announce and attest the same, as required by this section.

    (b) It shall be the duty of each board of registration commissioners in each county, before the time fixed for the county board to convene for purpose of computing and canvassing returns of any primary or election, to certify to said county board the total registration of each election district within its jurisdiction, and the enrollment of each district by political parties at primaries. The county board, before computing the votes cast in any election district, shall compare said registration and enrollment figures with the certificates returned by the election officers showing the number of persons who voted in each district or the number of ballots cast. If, upon consideration by said return board of the returns before it from any election district and the certificates aforesaid, it shall appear that the total vote returned for any candidate or candidates for the same office or nomination or on any question exceeds the number of registered or enrolled electors in said election district or exceeds the total number of persons who voted in said election district or the total number of ballots cast therein, or, if it shall appear that the total number of partisan votes returned for any candidate or candidates for the same office or nomination at any primary exceeds the number of electors registered or enrolled in said district as members of that political party, or exceeds the total number of persons belonging to that party who voted in said district or the total number of ballots of that party cast therein, in any such case, such excess shall be deemed a discrepancy and palpable error, and shall be investigated by the return board, and no votes shall be recorded from such district until such investigation shall be had, and such excess shall authorize–(a) the summoning of the election officers, overseers, machine inspectors, and clerks to appear forthwith with any election papers in their possession; (b) the production of the ballot box before the return board, and the examination and scrutiny of all of its contents, and all of the registration and election documents whatever, relating to said district, in the presence of representatives of each party and candidate interested who are attending the canvass of such votes; and the recount of the ballots contained in said ballot box, either generally or respecting the particular office, nomination, or question as to which the excess exists, in the discretion of the return board; (c) the correction of the returns in accordance with the result of said recount; (d) in the discretion of the return board, the exclusion of the poll of that district, either as to all offices, candidates, questions, and parties, or as to any particular offices, candidates, questions, or parties as to which said excess exists, if the ballot box be found to contain more ballots than there are electors registered or enrolled in said election district, or more ballots of one party than there are electors registered or enrolled in said district as members of that party, or more ballots than the number of voters who voted at said election, or more ballots of one party than the number of voters of that party who voted at said election; (e) a report of the facts of the case to the district attorney where such action appears to be warranted.

    (c) The county board shall first publicly account for all extra official ballots printed under the provisions of section 1007 of this act. The general returns made by the election officers from the various election districts shall then be read one after another in the usual order, slowly and audibly, by one of the clerks who shall, in each case of a return from a district in which ballots were used, read therefrom the number of ballots (in the case of primaries the number of ballots of each party) issued, spoiled and cancelled, and cast, respectively, whereupon the clerk having charge of the records of the county board showing the number of ballots furnished for each election district, including the number of extra official ballots as provided by section 1007 of this act as so furnished, and the number of stubs and unused ballots and spoiled and cancelled ballots returned, shall publicly announce the number of the same respectively, and unless it appears by said number or calculations therefrom that said records, and the said general return correspond, no further returns shall be read from the latter until all discrepancies are explained to the satisfaction of the county board. In the case of districts in which voting machines are used, there shall be read from the general return the identifying number or other designation of each voting machine used, the numbers registered on the protective counter or device on each machine prior to the opening of the polls and immediately after the close of the same, whereupon the clerk having charge of the records of the county board showing the number registered on the protective counter or device of each voting machine prior to delivery at the polling place, shall publicly announce the numbers so registered, and unless it appears that the said records, and the said general return correspond, no further returns shall be read from the latter until any and all discrepancies are explained to the satisfaction of the county board.

    (d)(1) In districts in which paper ballots have been used, when the records agree with said returns regarding the number of ballots and the number of votes recorded for each candidate (on each party ticket at primaries), said votes for each candidate shall be read by the clerk slowly, audibly, and in an orderly manner from the general return which has been returned unsealed, and the figures announced shall be compared by other clerks with the general return which has been returned sealed. The figures announced for all districts shall be compared by one of the clerks with the tally papers from the respective districts. If any discrepancies are discovered, the county board shall thereupon examine all of the return sheets, tally papers and other papers in its possession relating to the same election district. If the tally papers and sealed general return sheet agree, the unsealed general return shall be forthwith corrected to conform thereto. But in every other case the county board shall forthwith cause the ballot box of the district to be opened and the vote therein to be recounted in the presence of attorneys, watchers, and candidates interested, and if the recount shall not be sufficient to correct the error, the county board may summon the election officers and overseers, if any, to appear forthwith with all election papers in their possession.

    (2) In districts in which voting machines have been used, when the records agree with the returns regarding the number registered on the voting machine, the votes recorded for each candidate shall be read by the clerk slowly, audibly, and in an orderly manner from the general return sheet which has been returned unsealed, and the figures announced shall be compared by other clerks with the duplicate return sheet which has been returned sealed, and if the voting machine is of the type equipped with mechanism for printing paper proof sheets, said general and duplicate return sheets shall also be compared with said proof sheets, which have been returned as aforesaid. If any discrepancies are discovered, the county board shall thereupon examine all of the return sheets, proof sheets and other papers in its possession relating to the same election district. The said proof sheets shall be deemed to be the primary evidence of the result of the election and to be prima facie accurate, and if the proper proof sheets properly identified, shall be mutually consistent, and if the general and duplicate returns, or either of them, from said district shall not correspond with said proof sheets, they shall be corrected so as to correspond with same, in the absence of allegation of specific fraud or error, proved to the satisfaction of the county board.

    (3) If any error or fraud is discovered, the county board shall compute and certify the votes justly regardless of any fraudulent or erroneous returns presented to it, and shall report the facts to the district attorney of the proper county for action.

    (4) In districts where electronically tabulated ballots are used in conjunction with central ballot tabulation, the return board shall compare the number of persons voting as indicated on the computer return sheets, with the number voting as indicated on the sealed general return from the election district. In the case of a discrepancy, the procedures specified for paper ballots in subsection (d)(1) shall be followed.

    (5) In districts where ballots are tabulated at the election district, the procedures specified for paper ballots in subsection (d)(1) shall be followed.

    (e) Provision for Recount or Recanvass of Vote.–Whenever it shall appear that there is a discrepancy in the returns of any election district, or, upon petition of three voters of any district, verified by affidavit, that an error, although not apparent on the face of the returns, has been committed therein, or of its own motion or under subsection (g), the county board shall at any time prior to the completion of the computation of all of the returns for the county, summon the election officers of the district, and said officers, in the presence of said board, shall conduct a recount or recanvass of all ballots cast. Before making such recount or recanvass, the said board shall give notice in writing to the proper custodian of voting machines, and to each candidate, and to the county chairman of each party or political body, affected by the recount or recanvass; and each such candidate may be present in person, or by attorney, and each of such parties, or bodies, may send two representatives to be present at such recount or recanvass.

    (1) In a county in which an election district uses voting machines, all of the following apply:

    (i) The county board shall:

    (A) make a record of the number of the seal upon the voting machine and the number on the protective counter or other device;

    (B) make visible the registering counters of such machine; and

    (C) without unlocking the machine against voting, recanvass the vote cast on the machine.

    (ii) If, upon such recanvass, it shall be found that the original canvass of the returns has been correctly made from the machine, and that the discrepancy still remains unaccounted for, the said board, with the assistance of the custodian, in the presence of the election officers and the authorized candidates and representatives, shall unlock the voting and counting mechanism of the machine, and shall proceed thoroughly to examine and test the machine to determine and reveal the true cause or causes, if any, of the discrepancy in returns from such machine. Each counter shall be reset at zero (000) before it is tested, after which it shall be operated at least one hundred times. After the completion of such examination and test, the custodian shall then and there prepare a statement, in writing, giving in detail the result of the examination and test, and such statement shall be witnessed by the persons present, and shall be filed with the said board.

    (iii) If, upon such recanvass, it shall appear that the original canvass of the returns by the election officers was incorrect, the said returns and all papers being prepared by the said board shall be corrected accordingly: Provided, however, That in the case of returns from any election district wherein the election was held by the use of a voting machine equipped with mechanism for printing paper proof sheets, said proof sheets, if mutually consistent, shall be deemed to be the primary evidence of the result of the election and to be prima facie accurate, and there shall not be considered to be any discrepancy or error in the returns from any such district, such as to require a recanvass of the vote, if all available proof sheets, from the voting machine used therein, identified to the satisfaction of the return board and shown to its satisfaction to have been produced from proper custody, shall be mutually consistent, and, if the general and duplicate returns, or either of them, from said district shall not correspond with said proof sheets, they, and all other papers being prepared by said return board, shall be corrected so as to correspond with the same, in the absence of allegation of specific fraud or error, proved to the satisfaction of the return board by the weight of the evidence, and only in such case shall the vote of said election district be recanvassed under the provisions of this section.

    (2) In a county in which an election district uses paper ballots other than those used in conjunction with an electronic voting system, all of the following apply:

    (i) The county board shall, in the presence of the election officers and the authorized candidates and representatives, cause:

    (A) the ballot box of each district to be opened and the vote in the ballot box to be recounted; and

    (B) the entire vote of the election district to be counted correctly.

    (ii) The county board may summon the election officers and overseers to appear with all election papers in their possession to assist in determining an accurate count or addressing errors and omissions.

    (3) In a county in which an election district uses an electronic voting system utilizing paper ballots, all of the following apply:

    (i) The county board shall recount all ballots using manual, mechanical or electronic devices of a different type used for the specific election.

    (ii) All ballots containing overvotes shall be counted manually.

    (4) In a county in which an election district uses any other type of electronic voting systems, the county board shall conduct the recanvass similar to the procedure specified in clause (1) for voting machines.

    (f) As the returns from each election district are read, computed and found to be correct or corrected as aforesaid, they shall be recorded on the blanks prepared for the purpose until all the returns from the various election districts which are entitled to be counted shall have been duly recorded, when they shall be added together, announced and attested by the clerks who made and computed the entries respectively and signed by the members of the county board. Returns under this subsection shall be considered unofficial for five (5) days. The county board shall submit the unofficial returns to the Secretary of the Commonwealth by five o’clock P. M. on the Tuesday following the election. The submission shall be as directed by the secretary for public office which appears on the ballot in every election district in this Commonwealth or for a ballot question which appears on the ballot in every election district in this Commonwealth. At the expiration of five (5) days after the completion of the computation of votes, in case no petition for a recount or recanvass has been filed in accordance with the provisions of this act, or upon the completion of the recount or recanvass if a petition therefor has been filed within five (5) days after the completion of the computation of votes, the county board shall certify the returns so computed in said county in the manner required by this act, unless upon appeals taken from any decision, the court of common pleas shall have directed any returns to be revised, or unless in case of a recount, errors in the said returns shall have been found, in which case said returns shall be revised, corrected and certified accordingly. The county board shall thereupon, in the case of elections, issue certificates of election to the successful candidates for all county, city, borough, township, ward, school district, poor district and election offices, and local party offices to be filled by the votes of the electors of said county, or of any part thereof.

    (g) This subsection relates to recounts and recanvasses ordered by the secretary.

    (1) Except as set forth in subsection (h), the secretary shall order a recount and recanvass to all county boards if the unofficial returns prepared in accordance with subsection (f) reflect any of the following:

    (i) A candidate for a public office which appears on the ballot in every election district in this Commonwealth was defeated by one-half of a percent or less of the votes cast for the office. This subclause includes a candidate for retention to a Statewide judicial office.

    (ii) A ballot question appearing on the ballot in every election district in this Commonwealth was approved or rejected by one-half of a percent or less of the votes cast on the question.

    (2) The secretary shall issue an order under clause (1) by five o’clock P. M. of the second Thursday following the day of the election.

    (3) The secretary shall provide twenty-four (24) hours notice of an order under clause (1) to each candidate and to the county chairman of each party or political body affected by the recount and recanvass. Notice shall be by press release, the World Wide Web site or other means.

    (4) A candidate affected by the recount and recanvass may be present, in person or by attorney, at the recount and recanvass. A party or body affected by the recount and recanvass may send two representatives to the recount and recanvass.

    (5) The recount and recanvass shall:

    (i) follow procedures specified in subsection (e);

    (ii) be scheduled to be held by the third Wednesday following the day of the election; and

    (iii) be completed by noon on the following Tuesday.

    (6) The results of the recount and recanvass shall be submitted to the secretary by 12 o’clock noon on the day following completion of the recount and recanvass.

    (7) The secretary shall issue a press release and publish on the World Wide Web site all results received from the county boards of election.

    (8) Following the completion of the recount and recanvass, the Commonwealth shall pay to each county the sum specified in sections 1701 and 1702. The amounts necessary to pay the counties are hereby appropriated, upon approval of the Governor, to the Department of State.

    (h) A recount and recanvass shall not be ordered under subsection (g) (1)(i) if the defeated candidate requests in writing that a recount and recanvass not be made. A request under this subsection must be made by 12 o’ clock noon on the second Wednesday following the election.

    [Reply]

  4. Oh, I didn’t know that the certification from the county comes after the challenge period lapses. I thought it was (1) final count, (2) certification and then (3) the challenge period. Now we know — thanks for clarifying this point.

    [Reply]

    JudgeNJury Reply:

    Having re-read the statute I posted below a few times, here is what I think happens in as close to plain English as I can get: If, while the County is preparing the official election returns, it discovers a “discrepancy” in the election night returns (or if 3 voters file an affidavit saying they believe there is an error in the election-night returns), the County must recount the votes and correct any discrepancy [Section (d) and (e)]. Those corrected returns (and the rest of the returns that did not require correction) are then reported by the County as the final returns [Section (f)]. The final returns are deemed unofficial for 5 days after the County reports them. If, after 5 days, no recount petition is filed, the final returns become official and the County issues certificates of election to the prevailing candidates (i.e., the results are “certified”). If a recount petition is filed within 5 days, the returns remain unofficial and the election is not certified until the recount is completed [Section (f)].

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    JNJ – Thank you for the explanation and the timeline.

    It will be interesting to see what happens — can we assume that the known scanner issues with some of the machines qualify as a discrepancy.

    [Reply]

    JudgeNJury Reply:

    I do not know, but presumably the alleged errors in the unofficial results caused by the reported malfunctions qualify as “discrepancies.” I assume the county would recount the votes from the polling places where errors have been reported on its own initiative, but I would be surprised if one of the candidates or parties did not have 3 voters submit an affidavit to force what would appear to be a “free” recount [Section (e)]. If the candidate or party still had an issue with the returns after the “free” recount, they then could request another recount once the final returns are reported [Section (f)], though the second recount, I assume, would require the payment of the fees you described. At least, that’s what the statute seems to say on its face.

    [Reply]

  5. it would be unlikely that someone would challenge the vote count until the certification process is completed.
    **

    >>Duh…. The only thing that can be challenged is the final #. Until that time, the # can be in flux…it’s a moving target..

    >>Somewhat minor point… final count first, then challenge period, then certification after challenge period lapses.

    Pick one John. Which is it? If someone else had written two posts in a row so inconsistent, you would have demolished them. Does the challenge take place before or after certification? The “duh” comment would seem more reasonable — but the “somewhat minor point” contradicts it.

    [Reply]

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