Published: Sunday, November 5, 2006
Mercer, Lawrence workers to hand-count absentees
Each county has about 1,600 absentee ballots.
By LAURE CIOFFI
Unofficial election results put out on election night by Lawrence and Mercer counties will truly be unofficial.
They won't include the more than 1,000 votes cast in each county by absentee ballot thanks to a change in Pennsylvania law.
Poll workers will still be required to open and count absentee ballots at the polling places, but they are prohibited from combining those ballots with votes cast on Election Day, election directors say.
According to the new directive from the Pennsylvania Department of State, absentee ballots must go back to each county seat and be counted again before being included in the unofficial results.
In Lawrence and Mercer counties that means going back to hand-counting ballots. Election directors say that job won't be done until the day after the election.
"I think going backwards in time is odd. We are going back to hand-counting paper," said Dr. Thomas Rookie, elections director in Mercer County.
Marlene Gabriel, director of elections in Lawrence County, agrees.
"We are going backward," she said. "We bought the touch screen machines so we wouldn't have to do this."
Both counties use Election Systems and Software iVotronic Touch Screen Voting machines.
In the primary election, poll workers tallied the absentee ballots and then input them into the touch screen machines before sending them to the county.
Rookie and Gabriel said the change in the process came through a directive at the department of state.
Department of state officials did not return telephone calls to comment.
Gabriel said some Pennsylvania counties bought special scanning machines that will be used election night to centrally count their absentee ballots.
In Lawrence and Mercer the cost of another machine is prohibitive, officials said.
Gabriel said they opted to count the absentee ballots the next day to avoid errors.
"It's better not to do something fast to just get a number," she said.
Any close races in the counties could be affected by the absentee ballots.
Gabriel said Lawrence County has about 1,600 people voting by absentee ballot. Rookie said Mercer County will have about 1,650.