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Jan Wiedemann opens mail-in ballots at the Lancaster County Government Building in Lancaster city so they can be scanned on Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

The Lancaster County commissioners are expected to hire a new vendor to print and manage mail ballots, after ending the county’s relationship with a previous vendor responsible for errors in the 2021 primary election.

The commissioners are preparing to approve a contract with NPC Inc., a Blair County-based printer, at their meeting Wednesday. The county already uses NPC to print the ballots used on Election Day for in-person voting.

The new vendor was recommended by three other Pennsylvania counties of similar or larger size to Lancaster: Montgomery, Chester and Dauphin counties, said Linda Schreiner, the county’s director of purchasing, during the commissioners’ work session on Tuesday.

Several other Pennsylvania counties have also used NPC for printing and delivering mail ballots since Pennsylvania expanded voting by mail as part of Act 77 of 2019.

Lancaster County ended its contract with Michigan Election Resources — now known as Plerus — and began seeking more than $23,000 in damages from the company after it took responsibility for multiple printing and delivery issues in the 2021 Municipal Primary Election. Most notably, the county had to spend four days hand transferring 12,630 mail ballots to new ballots after the mail ballots were deemed unscannable.

Additionally, 2,700 voters received voting instructions intended for Delaware County voters and approximately 100 voters in the Marietta and Mount Joy areas received return envelopes that were intended for other voters.

“It's unfortunate that we’re here today because of the past vendor, but that’s behind us now,” said Commissioner Ray D’Agostino, who also chairs the county’s board of elections. “It will be a new day and it will be a lot better for going forward.”

The county did not discover the unscannable ballots until it began opening mail ballots at 7 a.m. on Primary Election Day, May 18, because state law prohibits counties from preparing ballots to be counted ahead of Election Day. Since the law’s passage in 2019, county election officials have been advocating for the state to allow counties to open and prepare ballots to be scanned in the days leading up to Election Day, so that results can be determined faster.

Prior to choosing NPC, officials were able to test sample ballots from each of its bidders. This test was successful for each of the vendors that put in a bid.

Commissioner Josh Parsons said the recommendation of NPC by other Pennsylvania counties was important to him, noting the errors found on the morning of Election Day in May. 

“Frankly the (sample) testing doesn’t prove anything, because we could have an election where we get mail-in ballots and were not allowed to open them until 7 a.m. that morning, and then we find problems,” Parsons said. “We can’t have that happen again.”

Parsons said all counties in the state will continue to find issues under Act 77 of 2019 “until this law is fixed or repealed.”

“Act 77 of 2019 is so ... logistically challenging,” Parsons said. “It’s very, very difficult to get perfect, and our standard really has to be perfection.”

Plerus submitted a bid for the job, said Christa Miller, the county’s chief registrar for the Board of Elections. But the bid was rejected based on past performance, Schreiner said during the meeting. Another vendor was rejected based on an error in its sample ballot. Four bids were evaluated, and NPC offered the lowest bid, Schreiner said.

County officials said the contract will include multiple quality-control measures, including that NPC will provide random ballot sampling of the ballots printed that day, Miller added.

The contract with NPC would serve to back-fill the county’s previous contract with MER/Plerus, and only run through the 2021 general election. Under the contract, the county would pay NPC an estimated $28,700 to print mail ballots, stuff envelopes and mail the county’s mail ballots for the upcoming election.

The county intentionally chose to keep its initial contract to one election cycle, Schreiner said, giving the county the “opportunity to sever and walk away” if issues arise. The county’s pending agreement would offer two one-year options to extend into future elections, and include a 30% increase in cost from the county’s earlier contract with MER/Plerus.

NPC -- originally called News Printing Company -- was founded in 1954 and published three weekly newspapers in Blair County, according to its website. The company shifted away from newspaper publication in the 1980s and began to focus on government and commercial printing jobs.

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