Lancaster County Board of Elections staff on Friday will begin processing 52,308 write-in votes cast in Tuesday’s municipal election, with the outcome of a handful of local races potentially on the line.
Christa Miller, the county Board of Elections chief clerk, said approximately half of all the write-in votes are for school board director spots.
Four school board races where organized write-in candidates could win include:
- Cocalico School District, where 3,680 write-in votes must still be counted for 4 open seats on the ballot;
- Manheim Central School District, 2,920 write-in votes, 5 seats on ballot;
- Penn Manor School District, 7,992 write-in votes, 4 seats on ballot;
- Warwick School District, 3,719 write-in votes
The write-ins in Warwick School District have the greatest chance to change the outcome of their election, Miller said.
Currently, the fourth-place candidate whose name appeared on the ballot, Board President Michael Landis, has 3,277 votes. But there are still 3,719 write-in votes to count, many of which are likely for write-in candidate Emily Zimmerman.
Zimmerman has been a vocal parent at Warwick school board meetings where she opposed COVID-19 requirements in schools. She launched a write-in campaign in September.
Even in Penn Manor, “there’s still a chance” that four write-in candidates running could win, Miller said.
The Penn Manor write-in candidates say they oppose how the board conducted meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming it should've done more to promote civility and quell outbursts from community members who were upset by the mask mandates.
In addition to the four school board races, a Paradise Township supervisor’s race also could be impacted by the write-in votes. There are 617 outstanding write-in votes in that race. Currently, the in-person and mail votes for Marlin Groff and Craig Keenan, whose names were on the ballot, stand at 354 and 344 votes, respectively.
The number of write-in votes does not represent 52,308 voters. In multiple races across the county, voters were asked to choose more than one candidate. So a voter who writes in two names for a multi-candidate race, or who writes-ins candidate names for multiple different races, would account for two or more of the total write-in tally.
Prior to Tuesday’s election, a municipal election with 15,000 write-ins would have been considered a lot, Miller said. Tuesday’s write-in votes more than tripled the traditional number of write-ins received by the county.
“Fifty-two thousand [write-ins] is unheard of in Lancaster County,” she added.
The process for tallying write-in votes is time-consuming. First, the county only has one computer programmed to count them. And these votes require extra care and handling, as elections staff must track incorrectly spelled candidate names and give the corresponding write-in candidates the opportunity to petition to have those votes included in their final tallies.
“There could be 15 different versions of someone’s name [on a write-in],” Miller said. “In that case, they would need to petition the court to combine all the versions they believe should belong to them, and it would be up to a judge to accept all of them or not.”
The county may also find that some or many write-in votes were blanks -- meaning someone checked the “write-in” box on their ballot but left the line for the write-in’s name empty. These votes are discarded, Miller said.
The Board of Elections will begin counting write-ins on Friday. Staff will first count write-in votes in races where they could affect the outcome, such as the Warwick School District race. These results will “hopefully” be available by the end of next week, Miller said. She asked that voters be patient with her office.
“It has to be accurate,” she said. “Unfortunately, for us to do that, it’s just going to take patience from the public to get through an unprecedented number of write-ins.”