ballot counting Wednesday

County workers and volunteers count mail-in ballots for the second day inside the Lancaster County Convention Center on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. 

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include a response from Lancaster County officials.

Lancaster County officials on Thursday debunked an allegation circulating online that the county elections office counted more mail-in ballots for the general election than it reported sending out.

Circulating on Facebook and other social media sites is a photo of a television screen. On it, a graphic shows the county tallied 50,000 more mail-in votes than it distributed to voters who applied to vote by mail.

Many posts on social media suggested the graphic proved that voter fraud was somehow being committed.

The graphic was originally broadcasted by CBS 21 on election night, the station’s news director, Bryan Queen, confirmed. He said the numbers were quickly recognized as incorrect and that the graphic was corrected and the error was noted on air.

“That data came straight from the state,” Queen said, referring to the Pennsylvania Department of State. “I guess that whatever (Lancaster County) had reported to the state was incorrect.”

Queen said the error had to do with how Lancaster reported numbers to the state.

On Friday, county officials pushed back on that assertion. They said the county tested how it sends data to the state before Election Day and confirmed it was formatted correctly. The error, they insist, was not caused by the county or the software is uses to tally results.

Lancaster County Commissioner Josh Parsons talks about the progress over mail-in vote counting at the Lancaster County Convention Center late Wednesday morning, Nov. 4, 2020.

Across Pennsylvania, rumors about different types of election fraud have circulated since Tuesday night. For example, some voters in Allegheny County voiced concerns that mail-in or in-person ballots would not be counted if a voter used a Sharpie brand marker. Wenger also said this is not true, noting that the Hart Intercivic voting system used in Lancaster County can scan ballots completed with Sharpie pens and similar models.

Another concern spreading on Facebook comes from voters who complained that they are unable to check that their in-person votes have been counted. The confusion could be related to a feature on the Department of State’s website that lets mail-in voters check to see if their county received and processed their ballot.

Voters have never been able to check if their in-person votes have been tallied because they are intentionally secret and there is nothing linking a particular ballot to a particular voter, Wenger said. This is why mail-in ballots must be returned inside a “secrecy envelope” -- once county officials confirm the signature on the outer envelope, the secrecy envelope and the ballot inside are processed separately. County officials have no ability, at that point, to connect a specific mail-in ballot to an individual voter.

In that sense, the poll books voters sign at in-person polling places serve as a confirmatory record that a voter’s ballot was cast.

What’s more, Pennsylvania’s 67 counties completed their conversion early this year to election systems that produce paper trails of each vote cast. If a candidate or campaign believes not all votes have been counted, those paper records can be audited.

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