Officials in Berks County knew this time things had to get better. They knew they had to fix the mistakes and avoid new ones.
The last time the county held an election, the primary last May, things didn’t go well. Problems with new electronic ballot books created confusion at the polls, forcing the county to ensure voters could cast their ballots.
The situation was examined and studied. Deficiencies were identified and solutions worked out.
And ahead of Tuesday’s general election, county officials promised things would be better this time.
You were right.
Election Day went smoothly at Berks, or at least as smoothly as one might expect. The handful of minor issues that surfaced were quickly fixed, and no widespread issues emerged.
This was very welcome news for those responsible for the election.
“We had a successful election,” said Stephanie Weaver, the county’s public relations officer. “It was very gratifying that all the hard work and time we put into dealing with the events of the spring really paid off.”
Weaver said it was particularly gratifying for election staff, who have worked around the clock over the past few weeks to ensure the election ran smoothly.
“We planned everything and it paid off in the end,” she said.
Weaver said the result was a credit to many people in many different county departments. And since the county doesn’t have an election officer, that meant people had to cover more ground.
“This was a big county effort where people showed up and knew what was expected of them,” she said. “It’s been a long day, it’s been a tough day and it hasn’t been perfect. But when small problems arose, we had a plan to address them. It really is a testament to the work we put into preparing for this day.”
Weaver said some residents’ concerns about not having an election supervisor proved unfounded.
“People want to focus on the director, the person in charge, but it’s really about the people who put all that time and effort,” she said. “It’s a lot of little things that add up to a big thing.”
Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt, chairman of the electoral committee, said the primary election incidents had exposed some weaknesses in the system.
“It was a real lesson for us to sit down and gather the information to figure out how we can get bigger and better over time,” he said. “And with the expansion in the number of rovers we have, new methods of communication and intensive training for poll workers, a lot of things have been stepping out the door for the first time. I think it all culminated in a very ordinary election, which is exactly what we wanted.”
Barnhardt said many people deserve credit for this, and highlighted the extraordinary work of Anne Norton, operations and systems manager for county elections, chief registrar Silvia Gutierrez, and Weaver in taking on the arduous task of organizing postal voting take over in individual districts.
“Everyone from top to bottom just did an amazing job,” he said. “And we’re still finding things to improve for the next election.”
The problem with the ballot books in the primary left many local voters concerned about the state of the county election.
Voter signatures did not appear in the electronic ballot books, and the county was forced to switch back to paper ballot books shortly after voting began. However, the county’s 202 wards did not have paper versions on hand.
Getting the paper books to the ballot boxes proved difficult, in some cases taking hours.
Due to the challenges the district was facing, a district judge ordered polling stations to stay open an extra hour. However, this message did not reach all polling stations.
After an investigation, the county took several steps to ensure that the problem did not recur or that a new, similar problem did not arise.
Weaver said there was 100 percent confidence that the electronic ballot books would work correctly this time.
She said signature verification was double checked during the logic and accuracy check of the nearly 405 electronic ballot books the county uses on Election Day. The process was done to ensure they were working properly and had all the information they were supposed to contain.
Weaver said the polls office has held about 15 training sessions for poll workers since the primary, focused solely on the electronic ballot books. She said the participants’ feedback was helpful and they expressed a better understanding of the devices after the training.
Regarding the communications issues that arose during the primary, Barnhardt said the county has been working diligently over the past few months to improve communications to and from the Election Services office to polling stations on Election Day.
One of the components that helped improve communication was the hiring of additional rovers. Barnhardt said the county has twice as many rovers as in the past.
A rover is responsible for answering and resolving queries from voters at polling stations.
Barnhardt said the county also has a number of phones manned by staff and interpreters who took calls from the public. There was a separate phone line for polling judges, making it easier for them to speak to polling station staff.
Barnhardt said he believes these moves helped the general election run more smoothly than the primary.