After talking with state's top election official, Lehigh County DA continues monitoring ballot drop-off boxes
Conversation was 'brief, cordial'
A conversation with the state’s top election official did not change Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin’s decision to have his detectives monitor ballot drop-off boxes.
The discussion on Monday was arranged after Acting Commonwealth Secretary Leigh Chapman asked Martin in a letter to no longer have county detectives monitor the county’s five drop-off boxes in person. In Pennsylvania, the commonwealth secretary serves as the state’s chief election official.
“I share your interest in ensuring that our state and federal election laws are followed and enforced, including laws covering the delivery of mail-in or absentee ballots, Chapman wrote in her letter last week. “That said, I write to inquire about your plans out of concern that they may have the effect of intimidating eligible voters and deterring their authorized agents from legally casting votes.”
Chapman and Martin “had a brief, cordial conversation” Monday, according to a statement Tuesday from the Department of State press office.
After receiving the letter, Martin said on Friday that he will continue to have county detectives physically monitor drop-off boxes for mail-in ballots. Monday’s conversation didn’t change anything.
Since the drop-off boxes became available on May 2, Martin said Friday he had not found any instances of people dropping off more than one ballot. He would not comment on whether he has received complaints about detectives being posted at drop-off boxes.
Chapman’s letter was sent Thursday, the same day a group of 21 organizations, led by the ACLU, also sent a letter to Martin, saying that the presence of detectives at drop boxes “appears to cross the line into unlawful harassment and intimidation of voters.”
Both letters follow Martin’s April 26 announcement that county detectives would be monitoring the county’s drop-off locations either in person or via video surveillance recordings.
Persons caught dropping off more than one ballot could face fines of up to $2,500 and imprisonment for up to two years or both, Martin said in the announcement.
In her letter, Chapman addressed two issues that were also raised in the ACLU letter. Chapman noted to Martin that legally a person may drop off the ballot of a voter who has a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
To do so, both parties must fill out and sign a form. Martin’s April 26 press release did not mention the option for persons with disabilities.
On Thursday, in response to the ACLU letter, Martin said he has the authority to uphold the election law and pointed out that an investigation by his office showed that there were at least 288 cases last fall involving people placing more than one ballot in a drop box.
“People ought to follow the law,” he said.
Martin also said his detectives are unobtrusive and will not approach anyone unless they observe the person dropping off more than one ballot. He described the monitoring of both videos and ballot drop-off boxes taking place periodically.
The deadline to turn in a mail-in ballot is 8 p.m. May 17, the day of the primary.
Thanks for reading Armchair Lehigh Valley. Subscribe for free to receive new posts.