(The Center Square) – Federal authorities in Pennsylvania are investigating “reports of potential issues with a small number of mail-in ballots at the Luzerne County Board of Elections.”
FBI agents and the Pennsylvania State Police “have conducted numerous interviews and recovered and reviewed certain physical evidence,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania said in a statement. Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis requested the federal investigation, and election officials have cooperated with the probe.
“At this point we can confirm that a small number of military ballots were discarded,” according to the statement. “Investigators have recovered nine ballots at this time. Some of those ballots can be attributed to specific voters and some cannot.”
Federal authorities said seven of the nine ballots were cast for President Donald Trump. Luzerne election officials resealed the other two ballots before the feds recovered them, and “the contents of those (two) ballots are unknown,” according to the statement.
“It is the vital duty of government to ensure that every properly cast vote is counted,” the statement continued.
In an interview with Politico, Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School, said issuing such an announcement about an ongoing investigation was “illegitimate.”
“It is really improper for DOJ to be putting out a press release with partial facts,” Politico quoted Levitt as saying. “And it is career-endingly improper to designate the candidate for whom the votes are cast. There is no federal statute on which the identity of the preferred candidate depends.”
In a letter to Shelby Watchilla, Luzerne County Bureau of Elections’ director of elections, U.S. Attorney David Freed said the “investigation has revealed that all or nearly all envelopes received in the elections office were opened as a matter of course.”
“It was explained to investigators the envelopes used for official overseas, military, absentee and mail-in ballot requests are so similar, that the staff believed that adhering to the protocol of preserving envelopes unopened would cause them to miss such ballot requests,” Freed added. “Our interviews further revealed that this issue was a problem in the primary election – therefore a known issue – and that the problem has not been corrected.”
The security of ballots and voting by mail has taken on new interest this election season. Trump has suggested voting by mail may be ripe for fraud.
“These ballots are a horror show,” the president told Fox News Radio’s Brian Kilmeade. “...They were Trump ballots … and they were thrown in a garbage can.
“This is what’s going to happen, and we’re investigating that,” Trump added. “It’s a terrible thing that’s going on with these ballots. Who’s sending them, where are they sending them, where are they going, what areas are they going to, what areas are they not going to?”