HARRISBURG — Potentially thousands of mail ballots requested by Butler County voters appear to be lost, a county official said Wednesday, and the U.S. Postal Service has been asked to immediately investigate what happened to them.
A USPS spokesperson, meanwhile, said the agency is “unaware of any significant delays or issues.”
Nearly 40,000 registered voters in the county just north of Pittsburgh requested mail ballots. So far, only 24% of them have been returned to the county, by far the lowest rate among the state’s 67 counties. The county with the next-lowest return rate, Fayette, has received 50% of requested ballots.
County officials at first thought that the mail was slowed down due to high volume, Butler County Commissioner Leslie Osche said in an interview.
But this week, county call centers and email addresses set up to handle elections issues were flooded with messages. By Tuesday morning, officials abandoned any hope that the ballots would arrive and launched plans to get new ballots out to voters, Osche said.
“Our main focus — because it’s too late now to worry about this — we need to make sure we get these people their ballots,” Osche said.
Exactly how many ballots were lost remains under investigation, though Osche said she believes the number could be in the thousands given the high volume of calls and emails related to missing ballots fielded by county officials during the last week.
New ballots have been mailed to voters living in the county and overnighted to anyone living out of state, like college students. In some extenuating circumstances, sheriff’s deputies are hand-delivering ballots, Osche said.
» YOUR VOTING QUESTIONS, ANSWERED: Join us at 10 a.m. Monday, Nov. 2 to get all of your questions answered about the week of the election, what to expect, what to watch, and more. Register for free now!
Butler County Bureau of Elections Director Aaron Sheasley publicly disclosed the problem during a county commissioners' meeting Wednesday morning, the Butler Eagle reported.
Sheasley could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
Osche and Butler County Commissioner Kevin Boozel, the only Democrat on the three-member board of commissioners, said that the Pennsylvania Department of State is aware of the problem and post office officials have been asked to look into what happened to the ballots once they left the county offices.
“I don’t want this investigated a month from now, I want it back now,” Boozel said. “This is an active investigation. I don’t know any more information than that. We have to trust the fact that it is being investigated by the United States Postal Service. That alone leaves me a little bit leery.”
President Donald Trump plans a campaign rally in Butler County on Saturday.
A USPS spokesperson said in a statement the agency is “unaware of any significant delays or issues, and is in regular contact with the Board of Election as we work to locate and deliver ballots as they are presented to us.”
A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of State said the agency is “reaching out to both Butler County and the USPS to investigate this issue."
“Butler County voters who have not yet received ballots should go to the county Bureau of Elections to receive and cast their replacement ballot or they can go to their polling place on Election Day and vote a provisional ballot,” the spokesperson continued.