Lebanon County’s ballot drop box a casualty of election conspiracies

League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania Executive Director Amy Widestrom speaking at the Lebanon County Commissioners meeting on Thursday, Feb 15, 2024. (Photo: Sean Kitchen)

By Sean Kitchen

February 15, 2024

The county’s two Republican commissioners admitted that the emails they received were overwhelmingly in support of keeping the drop box, but voted to get rid of it anyway.

More than two dozen Lebanon County residents packed a county commissioners and elections board meeting at the courthouse in the City of Lebanon on Thursday to voice their grievances about the county’s decision last month to remove the county’s ballot drop box

The commissioners’ January vote came after lingering unfounded claims about election fraud in the 2020 presidential election sparked outrage among conservatives. 

On Thursday, local residents expressed their frustration that former President Trump’s lies about the election results were costing them their popular and widely used drop box. 

“As soon as I heard about this, I thought of Trump and a big lie,” Gary Gates, a former local judge of elections and Palmyra resident, told the board.

“You’re encouraging the fact that the past election was rigged. Now we got to straighten it out. I served as judge of elections and I know that the workers are honest people, that this was a very fair election and now you’re saying it isn’t?”

The county’s two Republican commissioners, Michael Kuhn, who chairs the body, and Robert Phillips, admitted that the emails they received were overwhelmingly in support of keeping the drop box. 

“I’d say the huge majority that I received were saying that they wanted to reinstate the drop box,” Kuhn told the room when asked if residents were for it or against it. Phillips replied by saying “same,” referring to Kuhn’s answer when pressed on the topic. 

Opposition for the county’s only drop box stems from vague statements about voting irregularities that are not backed by any evidence.

“Our job is not to make elections as easy as possible. They are to follow the law, which is what we’re trying to do,” Phillips proclaimed. “A lot of folks are concerned about voting irregularities and so on. Other counties have evidence with drop box issues.”

Amy Widestrom, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, pushed back on any cases of voter fraud pertaining to drop boxes. 

“There are no statistically significant findings of any issues related to ballot drop boxes, related to polling places, related to mail-in balloting. So we are solving a problem that doesn’t exist and that is unnecessary,” Widestrom told The Keystone in an interview.

Phillips later went on to correct the Democratic County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz for potentially misstating which voters actually use the drop box. 

“The reality is that the drop box was used two-to-one Republican, just so you’re aware of that,” Phillips said. “People are insinuating that the Republicans are voting to take it away because it’s two to one Democrats.”

The Keystone reported earlier this month that Lebanon County is expected to issue over 16,000 ballots for the upcoming presidential election and that close to one-third of the ballots, or 4,500 in total, will be delivered at the drop box.  

Due to the pushback from the local community, the commissioners devised an alternative plan that will allow voters to drive up to the county building and hand an elections worker their mail-in ballot. However, this plan will cost the county time, energy, and resources to implement.

The commissioners held two votes at Thursday’s meeting. The first vote was a do-over of the original vote to remove the drop box due to concerns that the board didn’t properly follow the commonwealth’s Sunshine laws. It passed by a 2-1 margin, with the board once again voting to remove the drop box. 

The second vote was on the alternative plan, which unanimously passed the commission. The county will have until their March 7th meeting to find a way to implement this plan. 

The county will have to obtain a shed or possible bus stop, install it behind the courthouse, and staff it with county election workers, who will collect ballots from residents as they arrive and then walk the ballots into the building for them. 

“I don’t have any concerns about the alternate plan,” Widestrom said following the meeting. 

“My only concern is the timing of the votes, and making sure that they approve it on [March 7th]. If they don’t approve it on the seventh, there will be no drop box option in Lebanon County.”



Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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