Why York County ran out of more Republican than Democratic ballots

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YORK COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — “Make sure you vote for me!” said the candidate to the voter, according to the voter’s recollection.

“Of course I will!” the voter replied.

Not such an unusual election day conversation between a candidate and a supporter, except that it was between Alyssa Eichelberger, a Northern York County School District member running for re-election, and Scott Eichelberger, her husband.

Even more unusual: Scott Eichelberger didn’t get to vote for his wife after all. He’s a Republican, and like an undetermined number of other polling places Tuesday, his polling place ran out of Republican ballots.

The line wasn’t moving. His 11-year-old and nine-year-old children were getting antsy.

“I had to make the decision to get the kids home, get them fed, get them a bath, do their homework and get them to bed, or vote for my wife,” Eichelberger said. “And I unfortunately had to tell my wife I wasn’t able to vote for her.”

York County Commissioners, who are also the counties election board — two of three of whom are Republicans — confirmed Wednesday that the impact wasn’t uniform. “We did run out of more Republican ballots than Democrat ballots,” said Commission President Julie Wheeler, a Republican.

“I was shocked,” Wheeler said, characterizing her reaction when she learned at about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday that polling places were running low on ballots.

It’s not that they didn’t know the county has more Republicans than Democrats — one pollworker in a majority-Republican precinct told abc27 News she counted 250 Republican ballots and 100 Democratic ballots at the start of the day (numbers she correctly suspected would be insufficient). It’s that York County voters turned out out in unusually high numbers for a municipal primary election, and although turnout among all voters was up, it was up by more among Republicans, leading to greater shortages of Republican ballots, according to Wheeler and the county’s other two commissioners, speaking to media.

Still, although turnout was high for a municipal primary, the county managed to run far short of the number of ballots it needed — no one is quite sure yet by how many — for an election with turnout of less than 25 percent.

Election offices almost never order enough ballots for all registered voters but err on the side of printing too many ballots, not too few.

“I don’t think the three of us can sit up here and say what happened yesterday is acceptable, because it wasn’t,” Wheeler said.

She said the county followed state guidelines, which require enough ballots to cover the average number of voters in the past three municipal primary elections (in 2015, 2017 and 2019) plus 10 percent more than that average. Wheeler couldn’t immediately say how many ballots the county printed.

She said turnout in Tuesday’s election surged 61 percent among Democrats and 72 percent among Republicans compared to the equivalent election in 2019. More Republicans alone — about 48,000 — voted Tuesday, she said, than the total number of voters of all parties (less than 42,000) who voted in 2019.

One key factor in the miscalculation of the number of ballots ordered, according to the commissioners: A significant number of people — 96 at one polling place alone, they said — had requested mail-in ballots but decided to vote at their election day polling places anyway. The county has 161 polling places. The commissioners said election officials didn’t envision needing election day ballots for so many people who had indicated they would vote by mail.

This was the first municipal primary since Act 77, which established widespread mail-in voting in Pennsylvania.

Wheeler and the other two commissioners, Doug Hoke and Ron Smith, said media could expect preliminary findings by next week regarding what went wrong and what they will do to fix it, but they declined to comment on what they called “personnel matters,” including the future of county election officials.

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