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No election concerns in Blair, Webster says

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Despite receiving calls about the integrity of recent elections in the state, Commissioner Amy Webster said there have been no issues in Blair County.

Webster and commissioners Bruce Erb and Laura Burke talked about the local and state elections during the commissioners meeting Thursday, where topics such as training election and poll workers, mail-in ballot security and voter registration rolls were broached.

Webster started off the conversation by noting she has been contacted by county residents who had concerns about elections in the state.

“I don’t blame them; I’m concerned too,” she said.

Webster said Director of Elections Sarah Seymour and her staff take extra precautions to avoid any dishonesty.

The office has also dedicated time to identify and remove voters from county voting rolls who have moved, who have become inactive and who are deceased, Webster said.

Erb said he served on an election law advisory board appointed by the Pennsylvania Senate, where the board’s responsibilities were to evaluate and make recommendations on improving the electoral process in the state.

One of the board’s recommendations was updating the state’s election laws to make sure that statewide voter registrations are up to date, he said.

Erb said among the board’s concerns were deceased voters and the panel asked for additional sources to be made available to verify when a voter is deceased and to have the name removed from the voting rolls.

Webster said that during the ballot tabulation, the county has several layers of checks and rechecks to ensure the authenticity of a voter and his or her ballot.

She commended Seymour and her staff, judges of elections, poll workers, and other election officials who diligently implement the county’s election procedures.

In an effort to ease election night labor issues, Erb said the advisory board recommended that county election boards be allowed to start precanvas returned ballots 14 days prior to the election.

Precanvassing allows election boards to open mail-in ballots to get them ready to count on Election Day.

“I know that has been a problem for us because we have to start on Election Day morning,” he said. “In a heavy voting year like this fall, it certainly makes for something that is already extremely labor-intensive.”

Erb said the board discussed requests by counties to move back the deadline to receive mail-in ballot applications to 15 days before an election to allow more time to process the applications and precanvas the ballots.

“However, there was no consensus on the board, and there was no recommendation on that matter,” he said.

Burke said moving back the deadline for mail-in ballots applications to 15 days would be helpful.

“It allows election offices to process applications for mail-in ballots, make sure they are received by the people who applied for them and make sure they have time to send them back so we don’t have these questions about if they can be counted,” she said.

Webster thought Act 77 was rushed into implementation for the 2020 election cycle and the directives of the state appellate courts and the Department of State were inconsistent, legally questionable and problematic.

Erb said the advisory board took a look at current voter identification law in the state. The law has been deemed unconstitutional in parts, he said, and an idea was floated that those parts could be repealed, adding clarity to the law, he said.

Erb said the board is also recommending additional election official and poll worker training because of the many changes of Pennsylvania election laws over the last few years.

“We believe this is best accomplished by collaborative effort by the Department of State, county commissioners and county election directors,” he said.

Burke said making election rules as uniform as possible is important.

“I think one of the comments that Erb made that stuck with me was increasing election official and poll worker training,” Burke said.

She said poll workers are on site at 6 a.m. to whenever they finish for the night, all for a $125 flat rate, capped by the state.

It is hard to attract people to be poll workers, she said.

Burke said one of the key elements to restore integrity is through the right training.

“The integrity of elections must be restored — if it is not, this nation will be torn apart by distrust,” Webster said.

Fort donation

In other business Thursday, commissioners ap­­proved a request from Glenn Nelson, director of Fort Roberdeau, for a donation of $15,000 from Richard C. Sutter for the Powder Magazine restoration project.

This is a donation agreement between the county and Fort Roberdeau, and the project is to be completed by the county on or before Dec. 31, Nelson said.

Sutter is a consultant who has worked on a variety of grants for the fort and really believes in the history it teaches, Nelson said.

The plan is to restore the powder magazine, where barrels of gunpowder were stored underground to prevent it from exploding due too much exposure to oxygen, he said.

Nelson said the powder magazine will be an exhibit and a part of the tour when it is completed.

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