Schuylkill County officials defended their execution of the 2020 General Election last week after a member of the public openly criticized it during their weekly board meeting.
And they sternly rebuked the comments, saying that Election Judges and Inspectors at polling locations across Schuylkill County deserve better.
Schuylkill County Defends Handling of 2020 General Election
The only trouble is, the comments the government addressed at Thursday’s board meeting had nothing to do with Election Judges, Inspectors or Clerks stationed at 125 precinct locations in Schuylkill County.
Instead, the comments were directed at the Schuylkill County Election Bureau and County Commissioners.
The comments squarely addressed the hiring of former Deputy Prothonotary Al Gricoski as the new Election Bureau Director. Gricoski was tapped to replace the retiring Fran Brennan.
Just weeks prior to accepting the position, Gricoski resigned from his job in the Prothonotary’s office due to personal commitments at home.
The General Election was Gricoski’s first in charge. And it was the second election (the June Primary being the first) in Schuylkill County featuring new voter technology, including the re-introduction of paper ballots.
During the General Election, which experienced high voter turnout, several precincts in Schuylkill County ran out of those paper ballots. And because of the confusion caused by the new mail-in voting process, including some ballots arriving to voters late, some voters were forced to vote in-person but use a Provisional ballot. This caused a shortage of Provisional ballots at between 10-15 precinct locations in Schuylkill County, according to a report from the RepublicanHerald newspaper.
After the public comment was read aloud by Commissioner Boots Hetherington, County Administrator Gary Bender weighed in on the criticism.
He said, “That comment was a slap in the face to all the hard-working Election Judges and Inspectors that we have in this county. This is a very cumbersome election out there with millions of mail-in ballots handed out countrywide. My wife is a Judge of Election and it was a very stressful day dealing with all this stuff. I think they did an exemplary job.”
At no time during the comment in question were the work of Election Judges or other poll workers criticized.
That didn’t stop the two Commissioners present – Gary Hess was absent for a third consecutive week – from backing up Bender’s comments on the Election Judges, et al.
Hetherington commended the work of the people at the polling locations as well as those working at the County Election office and vote counting headquarters at the STS building in Saint Clair.
Commissioner George Halcovage was agog that someone would criticize the “volunteers … people who understand what their civic responsibility is in working in elections.”
“These people do an outstanding job,” he said. “To criticize those people who are involved in elections, that’s unfortunate,” Halcovage said.
“I felt that was a slap in the face that do all that hard work,” Bender said.
Halcovage didn’t think it was right for the public to “criticize from the sidelines” about the election and encouraged the dissenters to get involved.
For the record, Election Judges and other poll workers, including Inspectors and Clerks are not volunteers, per se. Yes, they volunteer themselves for the role but each poll worker is paid for their day’s work. An Election Judge makes $150 for the day, typically. One Inspector who accompanies the Judge to drop off precinct materials at STS gets paid $130 and all other poll workers are paid $110.
But again, the criticisms leveled at the County on Thursday weren’t related to those poll workers.
Schuylkill County Ballot Shortages Addressed
The comments were leveled at the higher-ups at the Election Bureau, including the new director and the County Commissioners, namely for hiring him.
The Commissioners and Bender responded to that criticism as well.
One of the chief critiques of the Election Bureau on Nov. 3 was the ballot supply and how several precincts could physically run out of ballots.
Halcovage said the number of ballots delivered to each precinct was based off data Schuylkill County received from the Pennsylvania Dept. of State. And that department has heard its share of criticism lately, even prior to the election.
“Were some mistakes made? I’m sure there were,” Bender said. “I’m sure it happens every election.”
But we can’t remember an election in which a precinct ran out of ballots.
“Our Election Bureau did its job. They were faced with new machines that were implemented because we had to have paper back-up,” Halcovage said.
“It was addressed. And it was our job to make sure this was a fair and accurate election. I think Schuylkill County did a great job. We were one of the first to get out our results. We stayed overnight to make sure that was all taken care of. Kudos to all the workers,” he added.
Hetherington said, “A team of people, including myself and Mr. Halcovage, drove our own personal vehicles. We made sure we got ballots to all the precincts.”
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