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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, November 15, 2019

NorCo Completes Vote Tally; Audit 100% Accurate, Results To Be Tabulated Today

Late this afternoon, Northampton County's canvass board completed its canvass, or official count, of the votes cast during November 5's election. The results will be tabulated by Acting Voting Registrar Amy Hess today. After this, there will be a five-day period in which a petition for a recount or recanvass, The results include some polling precincts that placed their ballot boxes in the wrong bag. It also includes absentee ballots and provisional ballots that were counted.

This process was conducted publicly. Representatives of parties and candidates were welcome, as well as reporters and any person who just wanted to see the laborious process of going through each precinct. I dropped in this afternoon, just as canvassers were counting the provisional ballots. I heard about 300 different pronunciations for Vic Scomillio and Abe Kassis,all from the same person.  At one point, Vic was Scosmellio and Abe was Crassus. He eventually started calling them Vic and Abe.

So far as I can determine, no challenges were filed to any of the individual ballots.

In addition to the canvass, the County conducted an audit of approximately 1,500 ballots from one precinct within each of the four county districts. Thankfully, my precinct escaped scrutiny. The precincts picked were Hellertown Borough 1, Wilson Borough 1, Nazareth Borough 2 and Moore Township Beersville. Voting machine vendor ES&S provided four DS200 precinct ballot scanners, and ballot cards from to be used to hand-feed the ES&S provided four DS200 precinct ballot scanners. ExpressVote XL ballot cards from Election Day were hand-fed into these scanners. The results were a 100% match from with the results on Election Night. In addition, a sample of ballots were scanned again, and the machine operator provided a results tape of the sample for a comparison to the human-readable names printed on the ballot cards. This was also a 100% match.

According to a county news release, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania mandates that each County audit a minimum of 2% of ballots after an election to verify election results. Northampton County voters cast 57,680 ballots on November 5th requiring an audit of a minimum of 1,200 ballots.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Business Matters To Interview Lead FBI Agent in Fed Ed Takedown

WFMZ-TV69's Business Matters, which features host Tony Iannelli, will be doing a one-on-one interview with retired FBI agent Scott Curtis. He's the G-man who spearheaded a federal investigation into Allentown and Reading corruption, leading to the downfall of both cities' Mayors. The show is being taped December 10, between noon and 1 pm, at The Banana Factory, 315 Columbia St, Bethlehem, Pa.

I will be very interested in what Curtis thinks about the current state of Lehigh Valley government and its players.

Dauphin County to Defy State Order For New Voting Systems

A 2016 lawsuit filed by former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein called Pennsylvania's election system a "national disgrace" and the voting machines "vulnerable, hackable, antiquated technology." Tom Wolf, the Neville Chamberlain of governors, settled the case by ordering all counties, in February 2018 and through the Department of State, to replace existing systems with "new modern machines" that include a voter verifiable paper trail. They must be in place before the 2020 Presidential election. According to Acting Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, 46 of Pennsylvania;s 67 counties were ready to use these new systems in November's just-held election. Another six counties are taking steps to have them in place next year. But what about the rest? If you're in Dauphin County, the answer to the state in NUTS.

Dauphin County's Republican Board of Commissioners are defying the Department of State.

"There’s an old saying: ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,’” Commissioner Mike Pries told the Carlisle Sentinel. “Our machines work, they’re fundamentally sound, we trust our machines, you cannot hack our machines.”

Since the state plans to decertify all the older systems on December 31, Dauphin is playing a dangerous game.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Upper Mount Bethel Tp's New Manager? Santa Claus

At an unusual Friday night meeting, Upper Mount Bethel Township Supervisors voted 3-1 to appoint a new Township Manager. Believe it or not, it's Santa Claus!

Supervisors met on Friday night because Monday, their regularly scheduled meeting date, was Veterans' Day. Of course,the first thing they did was go into executive session, aka the back room, to discuss personnel matters. When they popped out about ten minutes later, Chairman John Bermingham announced, "There will be no action taken."

I assumed that meant no action would be taken. Silly me. I stuck around for about 15 minutes as they discussed a Christmas tree lighting ceremony by the fire company on December 4, where everyone will sing carols, eat cookies and maybe blow up some tannerite. Though Santa was sitting in the audience, I figured I got a bum steer and left.

Not long after I departed, they took official action they said they weren't, and appointed Santa as Township Manager and at a starting salary of $85,000 with all the usual benefits. Voting yes were Bermingham, David Due and Robert Teel. The grinch, aka Craig Anthony DeFranco, voted No.

Santa Claus, incidentally, is a fellow named Eddie Nelson. Every winter, he goes to Florida and plays Santa at the malls. He canceled his contract this year. Nelson is a former Supervisor, but has no experience as a manager ... or zoning officer ... or planner ... or finance guy. In fairness, he has worked from time to time as a crossing guard.

One of the persons Santa beat for this job is former NorCo Exec John Brown. Between Brown and a mall Santa, I'd take the mall Santa, too.

I think I'm on Santa's naughty list now.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

We're Gonna' Need More Voting Machines

The municipal general election last week was, we all know, a disaster. Long lines existed at times. Many people think it takes too long to vote on the Express Vote XL. There were complaints about sensitivity. Council member Tara Zrinski even complained about bad election judges, and at my polling place. Without discounting any of these complaints, they pale in comparison to a much bigger one - the wrong results! As a result of a programming error, judicial candidate Abe Kassis was shown as having garnered practically no votes when the paper ballots show he actually won the race! Ironically, what saved this election is the Express Vote XL.

Since the voting machines have been impounded, it will be next month before Electronic Systems & Software (ES&S) can determine what went wrong, and even more importantly, why the "logic and accuracy" testing done each machine failed. This error affected both the computer printouts when the polls closed as well as the flash drives in each machine. Under these circumstances, how can we say that the know the paper ballots are accurate? This is a question I had last week. This concern is what led Council member Peg Ferraro to say she has "no confidence in the paper ballots."

As I thought about it, I realized the paper ballots are accurate. The reason is because every person who voted on the Express Vote XL had an opportunity to review his ballot. If the programming error extended to the ballots, votes for Kassis would have shown up as no vote or as a vote for someone else. If that happened, sooner or later, voters would notice and reject their ballot. With a second and third ballot, this mistake would continue. But that never happened. No voter has stepped forward to claim his choices failed to appear on the paper ballot. So I am confident in the accuracy of the paper ballot.

This is called redundancy. It's why The Express Vote XL, despite its inauspicious debut, was the correct choice.

Had we relied on paper, the scanner could read the selections incorrectly. It could fail completely. I prefer having two redundant systems, which is what The Express Vote XL provides. ES&S, which serves 3,000 of the nation's 10,000 voting jurisdictions, has a compelling business interest in finding and eliminating its error. It also needs to adjust machine sensitivity. Its business reputation demands nothing less. Other Pa. counties may shy away from this system because of our negative experience, but the system is working fine in New Jersey, Delaware and South Carolina.

Having said that, next year's election is a Presidential race, and turnout will be heavy. For that reason, I have three recommendations aimed at enabling people to vote quickly.

1) We're Gonna' Need More Voting Machines. - My experience is that that it took voters slightly longer to vote with the Express Vote XL than with the previous touchscreen. Some people insist it took a lot longer. If there are more voting machines in the county's 125 precincts, it necessarily follows that voting will be quicker. I would buy an additional 125 machines, and buy them now so we can take advantage of the 60% match being offered by the state. This assumes that ES&S finds and remedies its software problem.

2) Get Electronic Poll Books Already! - When you go to vote, you need to check in first. Once your name is located, which seemingly takes forever, you can sign it and then stand in another line to vote. Electronic poll books, known as e-poll books, can help a poll worker find you right away. What's more, if you are at the wrong precinct, it will tell workers instantly where you need to go. This is a big time saver, and was in place in about half of all voting jurisdictions in the 2016 Presidential race. It's been used in Lehigh County for the last three election cycles, and poll workers there tell me it's great because it saves you time.

Northampton County has been reluctant to order them because of the danger of cyberattack. This is why you would use an e-poll book that has been hardened against accidental or malicious tampering with a wireless private network that is thoroughly tested. Pennsylvania has certified e-poll books.

3) All Hands on Deck! - The County should seek volunteers from its workforce who are willing to spend their eight hours on election day assisting poll workers. If they are not registered voters or do not live within the county, they can still help manage lines. If they are registered voters they can take an oath and assist people signing in.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Thank a Veteran, not Trump


There are 939,000 veterans in Pennsylvania, and nearly 700,000 of them served while we were at war. About 57,000 are WWII vets.

I was in the Army Reserves during the Persian Gulf war. I volunteered to go over, but was rejected after a very nice going-away party. My Sergeant Major told me at the time that they were keeping me as a secret weapon, but I think I was too old. My absence from that conflagration explains why we won so quickly.

Though he never spent a second in the military, Authoritarian Donald Trump will be at NYC today to speak at the 100th Veterans' Day Parade. Just last week, a federal judge ordered him to pay $2 million to settle a civil lawsuit alleging that his family raised money for veterans' organizations, and then diverted it to his Presidential campaign.

But there's no quid pro quo!

Friday, November 08, 2019

Right After Complaining About Election Nightmare, NorCo Council Gets Schnookerd

On Election Day, Northampton County Voting Registrar Amy Hess worked for over 24 hours in a day that included court appearances, nonstop telephone calls and fielding numerous complaints about The ExpressVote XL voting system as well as the usual complaints that come with an election. So did her entire staff. On Thursday, they were preparing for the formal vote canvass scheduled to start tomorrow morning. When Northampton County Council convened at 6:30 pm, she was right across the hall with her staff, putting things together so an official count in a controversial race can be established. Executive Lamont McClure had ES&S Senior VP Adam Carbullido on hand, ready to discuss the shortcomings of his company's voting system. But instead of hearing from the manufacturer of the system that had gone awry, Council President Ron Heckman was "disappointed" that Hess was actually still working on the election instead of standing before the firing squad alongside McClure and Carbullido. "She should have known to be here," complained Heckman. So Hess had to be taken away from her duties so she could be dragged in front of Council and answer what really were stupid questions. Such was the way things went in a Council meeting that ending with a shakedown by two Bethlehem cops, one of them son of Police Chief Mark DiLuzio, looking to make a quick buck.

McClure and Carbullido pretty much repeated what they had said in their news conference the previous day. They both apologized. Neither knows precisely what caused the printouts to show Abe Kassis as having received no votes. But guess what? It is County Council that voted 8-1 to purchase these machines. No apologies from them. Council instead complained about everyone and everything else.

After dragging Hess before Council, Heckman asked her, after ten minutes of monologue, for suggestions on what can be done to "educate people on these machines." Say what? Whether a voter is 18 or 80, there should be no need for education or training, no matter what system is used. But Matt Dietz and Lori Vargo-Heffner actually agreed with Heckman that there should be "more training for the voters."

Heckman went on to suggest training sessions at senior centers, but is apparently totally oblivious that there was voter outreach at several senior centers as well as numerous other venues In fact, Northampton County did more outreach than any other county in the state.

Council member Bill McGee offered this brilliant insight: "We bought a car and the car doesn't work. We want our car back or something."

Carbullido was subjected to an attempted cross-examination by Council member Bob Werner, the sole No vote to the machines. Werner failed.

Council member Kevin Lott was the only effective critic. He made clear he has no confidence in ES&S. "You put this County in a very bad position. ... We thought we were buying a Cadillac, and it doesn't work."

Carbullido said he understood the frustration and would work hard to regain the county's trust.

After the voting machine blunder, Council went on the make another mistake.

Executive Lamont McClure wanted to condemn a property at 150 South Union Street forto Cou a parking lot. This property was just purchased in September by Sunblest Holdings, a LLC owned by Bethlehem cops Michael DiLuzio and Sam Elias. They paid $33,045.00. The County offered to buy it several times, and offered up to $50,000. They finally responded yesterday, demanding at least $85,000.

Northampton County owns an adjoining property, which has holes in the roof. For soe reason, Council member Matt Dietz argued Council should fix up its own property before demolishing it. Council member John Cusick objected to a condemnation without an appraisal, even though a condemnation would result in the appointment of a Board of View that could order an assessment.

Though Diluzio insisted that the property owner still lived there, his mail indicates an address in Wilson Borough. Executive McClure said DiLuzio was engaged in real estate speculation.

Heckman then expressed doubts about condemnation, even though he agrees parking is needed.

At this point, McClure go up and offered $85,000 for the property just purchased by these real estate speculators on September, ensuring them a capital gain of $52,000.

I did not hear a response from the shakedown artists, who now apparently think they can get even more money.

Hopefully, McClure will withdraw this offer.

Kevin Lott moved to table the condemnation, which passed. But that made no difference. Despite Roberts Rules, which prohibit the discussion of a matter after it is tabled, Council droned on for about ten more minutes.

The final matter considered was a grant application for the Coroner that must be filed by November 15. Heckman, who had just violated Council's own rules by discussing a tabled matter, objected to the resolution because it arrived late.

"We just ask for a certain level of respect," he said. If he wants others to follow Council's rules, so should he.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Morganelli's 75% Win And Other Election Tidbits

If the unofficial tally is accurate, John Morganelli captured 43,115 of the 57,680 votes cast on Tuesday, or 75% of the vote total. This is high praise for a dedicated public servant. John truly deserved to win.

On the day before the election, John made the following campaign stops:

📍 Hellertown: 7:00pm-8:00pm - Dinner at The Crossroads. Great cheese-steaks. Met Manny Aguia, who caught the marlin on the wall in 1980. My old friend Ron Davco took this photo.
📍 West Easton: 630pm - Attended municipal meeting
📍 Bethlehem Twp: 5:30pm - Blue Grillhouse
📍 Wilson Borough: 5:00pm - Wilson Deli for a freshly made hoagie to go for tomorrow!
📍 Easton: 430pm - NorCo Courthouse, where I work, and thanked County employees.
📍 Freemansburg: 4:00pm - Neighborhood walk
📍 Stockertown & Tatamy: 3:00-3:30pm - Stockertown Municipal Building & the Post Office.
📍 Forks Township: 2:30 pm - Forks Township PD
📍 Upper Mt Bethel: 130pm - Lunch at Mt. Bethel Diner
📍 Portland Borough: 1:00pm - O’Neills Place
📍 Up/Lw Mt.Bethel Twp: 12:30pm - Comunale’s Italian Market
📍 Bangor&E Bangor: 12:00pm - Miller’s Paint Store & E Bangor Police.
📍 Pen Argyl: 1130am - Borough Municipal Building
📍 Wind Gap: 11:00am - Gap Diner in Wind Gap.
📍 512 N: 10:00am-1030am - Whistle stops...
▪️Moore Twp ▪️ Chapman ▪️ Bushkill Twp.
📍 Bath: 9:15am - T&C Restaurant, Wunderler’s & Aharts
📍 Nazareth: 830am - Business District
📍 Palmer Township: 7:00am - TicToc Family Restaurant

He went alone, no handler, and enjoyed himself. He won nearly every precinct in the county. I congratulated John yesterday, and he showed me pictures he took of Portland, which he loves. According to barista Bob Cartwright, it is the Cancun of the Lehigh Valley.

****

Who voted straight party? According to unofficial results, 10,639 Democrats and 7,917 Republicans voted straight party. What this means is that 68% of those who voted split their tickets. Starting next year, straight party voting will no longer be an option.

****

Kassis won in Bethlehem and Easton, and in Easton, he even topped John in a few precincts. This plus the unexpectedly high turnout;,edto his victory.

Vic Scomillio knew he needed to make a dent in Bethlehem, and planted himself at Precinct 14-1 on Election Day. He remained there the entire day, greeting voters. But when the vote was tallied, he only had 151 votes, only 41 more than Tom Carroll.

****

Terry Houck defeated Tom Carroll by 29,875 to 23,988. Although Carroll got the racist vote, he probably also received votes from Republicans who simply knew noting about him except his party.

McClure Apologizes For Election Day Disaster: "We Will Do Better"

In a news conference yesterday afternoon, Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure has apologized and accepted responsibility for some serious issues arising from the rollout of the Express Vote XL voting system used in Tuesday's election. He acknowledged that one of his many duties is to ensure public confidence in our voting system. "[W]e fell short of that mark," he admitted.

The problems started with judges up for retention with simple "Yes" or "No" votes along the right side of the ballot. Some of the machines were sensitive, especially with those questions. They issued court orders throughout the day, resulting in calls and text messages from the elections office to election judges, instructing election judges to inform voters that if they had any issues, they were to notify election workers. Constables even served election judges with a court order concerning these retention races.

In addition, turnout was 27.68%, which was unexpectedly high for a municipal race. In some districts with contested races, it was much higher. Voters would have to wait. In an instant gratification society, this means some people would start complaining. The scapegoat for this wait was not the turnout, but the new machines. These new machines do take longer to operate than a simple touchscreen. For most people, it takes only 30-60 seconds longer, but that was long enough to make people start blaming the machines. I have received some reports of paper jams and other problems, but can attest there were no such issues in my precinct or the one next to me. I did poll about 30 voters about their experience with the new machine. Some did have some minor complaints about the sensitivity, but all reported they were able to vote without incident. Most people dislike and distrust computers, but liked the paper back-up. "That's a lot better than the politicians doing their thing," said one.

Common pleas judges were worried about their retention races, but I was confident in the new system. This all came to a sudden end when the polls closed and I printed out reports for the two machines I was using. Both of my machines showed that Steve Salvesen, a long-time Hanover Township Supervisor who lives in my district and presumably voted for himself, received no votes. They also showed judicial candidate Abe Kassis had zero votes. I knew this had to be wrong.

On my way to the courthouse, I was wondering what the hell I had done wrong. Then I began receiving reports from other judges who were experiencing the same issue. Yesterday, Lamont McClure said it was a county-wide problem.

When we run reports, we also remove encrypted flash drives from the machines and return them to the courthouse. My assumption was that these flash drives would show the actual count. Yesterday, ES&S Exec VP Adam Carbullido said that the flash drives showed the same erroneous results as appeared on the printouts.

When Executive McClure was made aware that Democrat Abe Kassis was getting no votes in Easton's blue wards, he sought and obtained permission from the state to scan the paper ballots. That count continued throughout the night, in the presence of candidates and their attorneys. The tabulation was finished around 5:30 am.

"We cannot have any difficulties with this system," said McClure, who added he was very disappointed with ESandS, manufacturer of The Express Vote XL. But he blamed himself. "[T]his is one of my responsibilities," he said. "To the voters yesterday who had difficulty casting their ballots, I am sorry. We will do better. To the candidates, their families and supporters who were unnecessarily made anxious by this process, I am sorry."

A chastened Carbullido also apologized to Northampton County voters and officials, claiming his company is committed to ensuring it never occurs again. He has "a high degree of confidence" in the tabulation of the paper ballots. But amazingly, "we don't know the root cause of the issue."

"How can you have a high degree of confidence that the results are accurate when you don't know what the root cause of your problem is?" I asked. Carbullido responded the paper ballots tabulated accurately, and I am sure they did. But how does he know these individual paper ballots are actually what appeared on the screen? He later admitted the flash drives contained the same errors that led to the obviously erroneous printouts, so how can he or anyone be sure the paper ballots are actually what the voters cast?

Carbullido would later say that "logic and accuracy" testing was done before these machines were put in use. This is done to ensure software has been set up properly to accurately count the specific ballots for that election. Obviously, this testing was botched.

In addition to the failure to test this setup, elections officials also improperly excluded Morning Call reporter Riley Yates from the scanning of the paper ballots on Tuesday night. McClure apologized to Yates and said he might have made a different decision. He said at that time elections officials were dealing with a "three-alarm raging fire." But as Yates noted, there can be no public confidence in a vote that is counted behind closed doors.

The public is permitted to attend the canvassing of the vote.

At this point, it's unclear whether Republicans will challenge this and problems occurring in other counties. Legally, there is little chance of success because of a strong public interest in finality of elections and a legal presumption of validity. But even a losing effort would be politically beneficial to the GOP.

McClure has honorably blamed himself. So has Adam Carbullido. But there's one person who really is to blame for this entire mess and no one has mentioned him. It is Governor Tom Wolf who ordered all 67 counties to get new voting systems with a voter verifiable paper trail. It is Wolf who ordered they be in place by 2020. It is Wolf who vetoed a bill to reimburse the county for 60% of the cost. It is Wolf who suddenly did an about face and agreed to that bill, but only after most counties dug into their pockets to buy $3 million systems to replace others with a few years of life still left in them.

Updated  9:43 am:
Philly had sensitivity issues with ExpressVote XL. - At yesterday's news conference, ESandS Exec VP Adam Carbullido said he had heard of no complaints about the ExpressVote XL from other counties. WHYY is reporting, however, that there were problems in Philadelphia:
The complaints varied on the controversial machines. Across the city, some complained about the touch screen’s sensitivity, in which it changed their selections, while others found the font of the printed ballot too small to read. Some glitches put machines out of commission for a few hours.

Emma Tramble from West Philadelphia said the booth was so dark that she could hardly see the candidates she was selecting.

She added that people at her polling place had to wait a long time to vote, which she attributes to a combination of people getting used to the new machines and others not being familiar with the election itself.