Voting challenges in 5 Westmoreland precincts to delay certification

Nov. 25—Westmoreland County Commissioners Sean Kertes and Doug Chew have pre-certified results of midterm election voting in all of the county's 307 precincts.

But when they meet Monday to consider final certification of the Nov. 8 vote — in their capacity as county election board members — they'll be limited to acting on only 302 of those polling places.

Citizens have filed petitions to challenge the vote in the remaining five precincts, and those petitions aren't scheduled to be considered by a county judge until Tuesday.

"Even if we were to have a certification next Monday, it would be for only uncontested or unchallenged precincts," Chew said.

The precincts in question include New Salem, in Salem; Hempfield No. 4 (Carbon); Ligonier Borough; Loyalhanna No. 1; and Lower Burrell 1-1.

Mary Tyson of Export, who supported the petitions, said, "That's just a sampling," indicating she believes there is reason to question voting at additional locations.

Tyson was among several residents who attended Wednesday's pre-certification meeting to air concerns and complaints about the accuracy of voting in this month's elections.

"We're not looking to overturn an election," she said. "We're asking for a recount. Is it going to change anything? I don't know, but we cannot let this go on.

"There's something wrong with our election system. I don't know what the answer is. It's getting to the point now where people don't want to vote."

Salem resident Susanna Dejeet said she learned of voters who attempted to use the county's touchscreen machines to select the candidate of their choice but saw the result "flipped" to an opposing candidate.

"People had to press two and three times to get their candidate's name to appear," she said.

"The peculiar thing is it only ran in one direction: it only flipped from Republicans to Democrats," Tyson asserted.

Dejeet also suggested some poll workers might not have properly secured and marked as "spoiled" mail-in ballots that voters surrendered when they decided instead to vote in person.

Chew said safeguards are in place to reject surrendered ballots. He said someone attempting to vote twice would be detected.

Election officials told Chew there had been no record of any Westmoreland County voter voting more than once in this month's election.

Election Bureau Director Greg McCloskey said there have been complaints of so-called "flipped" votes in past elections, but no fault had been found with the voting machines in such cases.

"Every election you hear that," he said. "Our IT folks have not been able to replicate it."

McCloskey said county voting machines are subjected to public "logic and accuracy testing prior to those machines being deployed in the field. Then we have field techs that go out throughout Election Day, and they cover every single precinct."

He said it's possible for a voter to inadvertently select an unintended candidate, particularly if the voter attempts to touch a small box next to a candidate's name — rather than a larger box containing the name itself, in accordance with voting instructions.

County Republican Committee Chairman Bill Bretz said he'd received some complaints about the voting process on Election Day, but no claims of "flipped" votes.

Ronald Zera, judge of elections in the Hempfield No. 1 precinct, which is not one of the areas where the vote has formally been contested, took offense at the allegations of flaws in the voting process.

He said he believes the petitions challenging the voting results are moot because the Republican candidates in the two major races, for Pennsylvania governor and U.S. senator, have conceded losses to their Democratic foes.

"There's no reason to go any further," he said. "I don't think that's proper."

If the challenges to the voting results are unfounded, he argued, the petitioners should be held responsible for any costs associated with reviewing the polling. If that's the case, he also suggested the county solicitor should explore taking action against the petitioners for defaming poll workers.

Carrie Hamley of Greensburg maintained those questioning the voting results are concerned about the accuracy of the voting machines, not the integrity of election workers or the election board.

"Taking legal action against the petitioners would be punitive for no reason," Hamley said. "I believe people have lost faith in the machines. It's the machines that have malfunctioned and have led to people feeling disenfranchised."

Tyson called for an audit to verify whether the Nov. 8 voting was accurate.

McCloskey said county officials already have completed two audits of the vote, which are required by law.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff by email at or via Twitter .