Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Washington County Takes Ballot Counting Seriously

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Washington County Takes Ballot Counting Seriously

Article excerpt

Larry Spahr's voice crackled over the airwaves as Wolf Blitzer, hosting CNN's election night coverage, asked him for an update late Tuesday.

The race between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District was too close to call. The election that had garnered national attention likely would come down to the absentee ballots.

Mr. Spahr, Washington County director of elections, told Mr. Blitzer that as a result, county elections officials had changed their plans. They had, as procedure calls for, intended to go home for the night and return Wednesday morning to count the absentees. Instead, they would stay late to count the ballots, first by hand, then using a scanner.

Mr. Blitzer asked Mr. Spahr how long he thought the process would take.

"It's probably going to take us several hours, sir," Mr. Spahr told him.

Mr. Spahr was right. About a dozen elections office workers, many of whom had been on duty since 6 a.m., would spend the next six hours examining 1,195 absentee ballots.

They organized the ballots in alphabetical order by precinct from Amwell Township, 1st Precinct, to City of Washington, 8th Ward, 1st Precinct - 125 precincts in all. That process alone took about three hours, Mr. Spahr said Wednesday.

Next, seven workers opened the sealed envelopes containing the ballots, and the hand count began. One person read the ballot while another recorded the vote.

"Rick Saccone. Rick Saccone. Republican straight party. Rick Saccone. Conor Lamb. Conor Lamb. Democratic straight party."

"We take those extra steps to get all those ballots organized, do that hand count, which gives us a step ahead, so to speak, in the event that we do receive from the court an order to sequester in the event there is a recount," Mr. Spahr said.

County elections director for 38 years, Mr. Spahr, said the last time he counted absentee ballots by hand and by machine was about 25 years ago.

While some of the elections office employees worked directly with the ballots, others assisted in a variety of ways. One made coffee. Another answered phones. Because the doors to the annex of the Washington County Courthouse were locked, a number of employees took turns opening the door for reporters who arrived sporadically. …

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