An error by Lancaster County's mail-in ballot vendor means more than half of all mail-in ballots will have to be hand-counted, causing a significant delay in final results – likely into the weekend.
Michigan Elections Resources printed multi-sheet ballots in the wrong order, affecting approximately 14,000 ballots, Lancaster County Board of Elections officials said Tuesday. Those ballots cannot be fed through the county’s ballot scanners.
Roughly 27,000 mail-in ballots were requested for the primary. As of Tuesday afternoon, nearly 18,000 had been returned.
"We'll be starting the hand count at the end of the week, weekend; we're fleshing that out at the moment," said Christa Miller, chief clerk of the board of elections. She said she anticipates the hand county will take three to four days to complete, and final results will be available by early next week.
"If it weren't for this issue, we actually could have been completely done [counting mail-in ballots] by tonight," said Commissioner Ray D'Agostino, chair of the county Board of Elections.
The ballot error discovered on Tuesday is the third error made by the vendor, Michigan Election Resources. Earlier this month, about 2,700 voters were alerted that some incorrect voting instructions were sent out, telling voters that they did not need to pay postage. Additionally, about 100 voters in the Marietta and Mount Joy areas received incorrect return envelopes intended for other voters, requiring the impacted voters to cancel their ballots and receive new ones.
Matt Sandretto, Michigan Election Resources CEO, said the misprint came from a programming error related to the complexity of the municipal primary election ballots.
The Lancaster County Board of Elections was unaware of the error until Tuesday morning because state election law prohibits local election staff from pre-canvassing ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day.
The mail-in ballot issue will delay final results for a municipal election with expectedly low voter turnout, both in Lancaster County and statewide, though some precincts reported higher-than-expected numbers throughout the day.
Official turnout numbers were not available Tuesday night.
Turnout is typically lower in so-called “off years” in which no federal seats are on the ballot. In the 2019 municipal primary, for example, turnout was roughly 19% of all registered voters, less than the roughly 28% seen in the 2020 presidential election primary.
By comparison, the turnout for the 2020 general election in November was nearly 80%.
Chris Wagenseller, a judge of elections in Manheim Township’s District 18, said at around 5:30 p.m. that the pace of the day had been slow, fewer than 200 voters. He added that there had been a lot of chatter about the ballot questions this year, and he’s being seeing a relatively high number of non-affiliated voters coming in just for that aspect of the election.
“There seems to be more interest in (the referendum questions,” he said. “I don’t know if they have (driven turn out), but people seem interested in them.”
Voters of both major parties in Manheim Township will have a contested race for three township commissioner seats.
In Manheim Township’s Districts 10 and 19, however, the judges of elections said during the afternoon that turnout beat expectations. Barry Price, judge of elections for District 10, estimated that they would end the day with about 20% turnout, which is higher than he expected. There are about 1,070 voters in that precinct. Likewise, Ava Bowers, judge of elections for District 19, said turnout was “better than we expected it to be,” and by 3:40 pm., 230 people had voted.
“Went pretty fast today,” Ron Fink of Manheim Township said after leaving the polling place at Grandview United Methodist Church. “The most important parts are, are we getting the correct counts on the election?” He said that while he didn’t experience any issues, he thinks the integrity of the voting system needs to be fixed. “There’s a lot of things in this country now that need to be fixed. It’s sort of ridiculous.”
Primaries are intended for voters of each political party to select the candidates they wish to run in the November general election. Statewide, all voters, regardless of political affiliation, were eligible to vote on two constitutional amendments to limit the governor’s emergency powers, as well as an anti-discrimination amendment and a separate question related to how local fire departments can incur debt.
Registered Republicans and Democrats, meanwhile, voted for nominees for a state Supreme Court seat and a two appellate court positions.
As an independent, Jennifer Holmseth, 41, couldn’t cast a ballot in New Holland borough’s council race, but that didn’t stop her from coming out to vote.
“I try to vote in all of them,” she said.
Kendra Fitz, 24, said she didn’t have any issues voting Tuesday when she cast her ballot at the New Holland polling place at Yoder’s Country Market.
“It was easy,” she said. “Really fast.”
Fitz declined to say who she supported in the borough’s council race, but did say she was motivated to go out and vote.
“I live in a very small town of backwards mentality and slow thinking, so I would like to enact change to help our town move forward,” she said.
Among the contested races in Lancaster County are a magisterial district judge contest in northern Lancaster County, the mayor of Manheim, and boards in nine school districts, nine townships, five boroughs and Lancaster city, where Democrats were to choose from five candidates seeking four city council seats.
In Lancaster City, Michelle Hines, 29, said she voted for the candidates recommended by the Lancaster Democratic Party, including Ismail Smith Wade-El and Lockhart Calixte, who she said impressed her in an interview with LNP | LancasterOnline. Hines said the most important issues facing Lancaster are a lack of affordable housing in the city and policing — things she hopes Calixte and the other Democratic candidates she voted for will address if elected.