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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Do You Want Your Local Mail Routed Through Harrisburg?

To address complaints about slow delivery of local mail here in the Lehigh Valley, the rocket scientists at the United States Postal Service are thinking about having your mail sent to Harrisburg and even Lancaster, and then shipping it back here. That'll teach you to keep your yapper shut! Oh yeah, in order to pretend they are transparent, these planners will conduct one public meeting today ... in Trexlertown ... at 3 pm.

Matt Dock, a mail processing clerk, thinks this is cRaZy. Here's what he says: 

"For those I know who live and work in the Lehigh Valley, Hazleton, and Stroudsburg areas, this is relevant to all of you.

"I know this looks complicated, but the basics is that the US Postal Service is planning on making changes to the processing of your letters and packages that will ship mail from this area out to Harrisburg, mingled with their own mail, then shipped back to the Lehigh Valley to be able to deliver something that may even be going to your next door neighbor. This could potentially add days to the delivery time of simple mailings, from bills to medicines.

"The US Postal Service is holding a public meeting at the Movie Tavern in Trexlertown on Thursday, November 30th at 3:00pm. Yes, that is a terrible time and location for business owners throughout the Lehigh Valley to be able to attend such a meeting. As an employee I can only do so much to convince a stubborn management, but the public's help would be greatly appreciated."

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

China Experiencing Pneumonia Outbreak

Northern China is experiencing a pneumonia outbreak that appears to be affecting children (unlike COVID). Public health officials are paying attention, but see no reason to believe a new pandemic is on its way. 

Chinese officials were initially accused of being less than transparent, as they were about COVID. But they have now met with WHO's Maria Van Kerkhove. She told Stat that the rise is due to something called an immunity gap created by the pandemic. "A dramatic reduction in circulation of other viruses and bacteria created a cohort of kids with few immunological defenses against bugs like influenza, RSV, and other cold-causing viruses, setting the stage for large outbreaks when those pathogens returned."

Northampton County Judges Pay Tribute to Judge Edward Smith

Blogger's Note: Below is a statement I received from President Judge Craig Dally yesterday, speaking for the entire bench, that laments the passing of one of their own. You can read his obituary here.

"On behalf of the judges of the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas, we are deeply saddened on the passing of our former colleague and friend, Judge Edward G. Smith. Judge Smith embodied the meaning of a public servant both as an esteemed jurist, during his time on the federal bench and this Court, and as a highly decorated and accomplished veteran of the United States Navy, receiving the Bronze Star Medal for his service in Iraq. By playing an active role in the legal community, and the community at large, Judge Smith fostered a better Northampton County. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife Jennifer and his three sons Benjamin, Michael, and David along with his extended family."

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Judge Ed Smith Passes Away Unexpectedly

LehighValleyLive reports that Ed Smith, a judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, has unexpectedly dies. Below is an article I wrote about him in 2014, when he was inducted onto the federal bench.  

Judge Edward G. Smith was inducted as a Judge of the United States District Court in a stirring ceremony before an overflow crowd at the Northampton County Courthouse on Friday. So many people were crammed into historic Courtroom No. 1 that part of the 600-person audience was forced to watch on closed circuit TV in an adjoining courtroom. Judge Legrome D. Davis, Acting Chief Judge of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, administered the oath of office to Judge Smith, as one of his three sons held the bible. He was robed by his father.

In addition to Senator Pat Toomey, the ceremony was attended by most of the Northampton and Lehigh County benches, along with many of the federal district court judges.

A Northampton County jurist since he was first elected in 2001, Judge Smith is a 27-year veteran of the United States Navy, where he currently serves as a Captain and as a military judge in the reserve component. His service took him to Iraq, where he was awarded the bronze star.

A Republican, Smith was nominated by President Barack Obama as Judge for the Eastern District of Pa. on August 1, 2013. He had the support of both of Pennsylvania's Senators, and was confirmed in a 69-31 vote on March 26, 2014. He was eventually serve in the federal courthouse in Easton. The Eastern District of Pennsylvania is one of the original 13 federal judicial districts created in 1789. Its first judge was appointed by George Washington. Smith is the 96th in what Judge Franklin S. Van Antwerpen called a "long line of black robes" over the past 220 years.

Unlike county judges, who are elected, appointments to the federal bench are for life.

Judge Van Antwerpen, the last Northampton County jurist to be selected to the federal bench in 1987, explained why. Though the vast majority of cases are heard in the state system; "[w]hen we need it, we have the independence of the federal system and its lifetime-tenured judges." He pointed out that it is the federal courts who struck down segregation and who have upheld the First Amendment rights to free speech against comments that the judges themselves found offensive. He called Smith both an "accomplished jurist" and a "true patriot" who "went to the Middle East at the risk of his own life."

President Judge Steve Baratta, who said Judge Smith will be"greatly missed in Northampton County," struggled to find what he called "Judge Smith stories." But the best he could come up with was someone having spotted him an a lawn tractor, in shirt and tie, cutting his grass.

The FBI, who does background checks on nominated federal jurists, was looking for Jude Smith stories, too. One Saturday morning, they knocked on the door of one of Smith's best friends, Attorney Joe Corpora. While Corpora's wife wondered what the FBI was doing at her door, Corpora came up with an embarrassing revelation about Judge Smith, and one he recorded on video.

Years ago, when Smith's and Corpora's children were much younger, Smith came dressed to his house dressed as Barney the Dinosaur and began singing "I love you."

"Do you know anything embarrassing?" asked the FBI.

"He doesn't sing or dance very well," answered Corpora.

Assistant District Attorney Abe Kassis, incoming president of the Northampton County Bar Association, called Smith an "officer and a gentleman" who "never forgot what it was like as a lawyer." He noted Judge Smith's unfailing courtesy to everyone before him, a hallmark of Northampton County judges. "He could sentence someone to 20 years in state prison and still have that Defendant thank him on the way out because he was so nice about it, " he joked.

"Believe half of what you heard," is what the modest Judge Smith told the audience after taking the oath. He thanked Attorney Ray DeRaymond, with whom he practiced for many years before becoming a judge. "He taught me everything I know," said Smith. He went on to say that everything good that has happened to him has been only because of the good people around him, from secretarial staff to the Sheriffs.

Smith is the grandson of Dr. George Smith, a south side Easton physician who also served as Mayor between 1960 and 1968.

The Impact of the Dobbs Decision in Pa.

According to Broad & Liberty, in the 2021 race for s seat on the state supreme court, Republican Kevin Brobson defeated Maria McLaughlin by a margin of 50.5 to 49.5%.  This year, in the race for another seat on the state high court, Democrat Dan McCaffrey beat Republican Carolyn Carluccio 53.5 to 46.5%. What changed during that time? The Dobbs decision, which effectively overturned Roe v..Wade. 

You'll notice that Northampton and Lehigh County voted blue.  This trend was also evident in the countywide races.   

A race basedon election integrity might change how some voters think.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Dertinger Resignation Weakens McClure

If you want a friend in politics, get a dog. Harry Truman once said that about Washington, but it applies everywhere.  Charles Dertinger and Lamont McClure have pretty much been tied at the hip since they both got into Northampton County politics. Over the years, they've been very loyal to each other. So it's shocking to see Dertinger "resign" over what McClure has already acknowledged is his responsibility. You could say that Dertinger just loyally fell on the sword, giving an angry Council the "sacrificial lamb" they demanded,  You could say he needed to go, but it's pretty clear he had no role in either a coding error or pre-election testing that led to the November 7 election debacle. A loyal McClure would refuse to let Deringer depart under these circumstances. This is being sold as firm action, but it solves nothing. In fact, it actually weakens Lamont McClure. 

I understand the ager from the public and County Council at the inexcusable failure to handle a core county function. But I'm more interested in fixing the problem than in collecting heads. We know that the county had nothing to do with the coding error that started this fiasco. We also know that ES&S spearheaded the pre-election (called Logic and Accuracy) testing following a pattern recommended by the Department of State. That has nothing to do with the county. 

So where is the county at fault? The biggest error, and this is in hindsight, is the failure to supply voting precincts with sufficient emergency paper ballots to cover a precinct in the unlikely event that use of a voting machine had to be discontinued.  The county only supplied 20 emergency ballots to each precinct under a practice initiated by former Registrar Amy Cozze, who obviously had Dertinger's blessing. Even though this failure was a disaster in the November 7 election, Cozze herself still fails to grasp why.

An anonymous comment from the U.S. Senate, where Cozze just happens to be employed, makes this argument: "Can we just address this paper ballot thing? If the county is going to start sending out hundreds of thousands of paper ballots on election day 'just in case' what the hell is the point of even using the voting machines??? Just switch to an all paper system. The paper ballots are supposed to be for EMERGENCIES not incompetence. ... they need to fire whoever is in charge, not saddle the tax payers with a new outlandish expense. " I'd say that when the machine has to be discontinued, that's an emergency. Also, as Elections Commissioner Dan Lopresti observed, "The cost is tiny compared to what we experienced here."

The remaining errors were by election workers in the field, most of whom only work twice a year.  Some of these are independently elected officials, and the county has limited authority over what they do or fail to do. Some of these officials decided to close their polling stations. This was unsanctioned and inexcusable. Some of them told voters to vote the opposite of who they wanted to elect even though no one in the county gave that advice. Two election workers from Hanover 4 incorrectly told voters that there would be a special election in the appellate retention race, though neither had authority from anyone to give such advice.   

Could the county do a better job of training? Registrar Chris Commini told the elections commission last week that there is mandatory training before each election, but it's clear to me that more training is needed, especially before next year's Presidential. 

Aside from Dertinger's acquiescence in the limited number of emergency ballots, I find little fault with his administration of this election. His resignation is intended to deflect some criticism away from McClure, who is ultimately responsible.  Instead of doing so, it weakens him in many ways.

It emboldens his critics. As one reader observes, "McClure shows his true colors here. It could be said it was his 'failure' too. In my world the top guy always takes responsibility. That's true leadership." I'd much rather see a written report explaining what went wrong and what steps are being taken to prevent it from happening again.

It is now less likely that his rubber stamps (Zrinski, Lott, Kraft, Warren and Keegan) will remain that way. They have seen now that they are expendable. 

It is now far less likely that a McClure pick will get the Council vacancy created when Zrinski becomes Controller. Instead of a McClure lemming like Bill McGee or Greg Zebrowski, Council is far more likely to select someone who would be independent and provide balance. Republican John Cusick or Democrat Deb Hunter are both good choices who would exalt good government over partisanship or blindly following McClure's agenda. 

In his time as Executive, McClure has worked hard to undermine the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, has played a part in the rift between the county conservation district and is now fighting with Easton over a goofy proposed hydropower plant on the Lehigh Canal. Council members Lori Vargo Heffner and Ron Heckman, both of them Democrats, complain his administration refuses to talk to them.

On top of all this, McClure and the local Democratic party are at odds.   

How many people can you afford to alienate before you start paying a price?  

McClure first tried to downplay the election fiasco as a minor error. Nobody swallowed that bullshit burger. He now has accepted the resignation of his top administrator, hoping that ends things. It's instead an admission.

He has been a good Executive, but his chief flaws have been both an unwillingness to listen as well as a penchant for undermining anyone he perceives to be a threat. 

If Republicans can get out of their own way, I doubt very much he wins a third term. Democratic and even Republican voters are motivated by woman's choice, which explains Democratic success on November 7.  But Republican and even Democratic voters care about election integrity. You can't tell people to ignore the touch screen in favor of the paper ballot in one election and to ignore the paper ballot in favor of the touch screen in another.

Friday, November 24, 2023

NorCo Administrator Charles Dertinger Resigns Following 2023 Election Mess

From Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure: "It is with deep regret that I have accepted the resignation today of Charles M. Dertinger from the position of Director of Administration, County of Northampton.

"Mr. Dertinger has spent nearly six years honorably serving the people of Northampton County in my Administration. While the 2019 and 2023 Elections were failures under his leadership of the Elections Division, the ’20, ’21, and ’22 elections were nearly flawless, as any complicated human activity can expect to be.

"Mr. Dertinger has had many accomplishments, great and small, as Director of Administration. Specifically, he led the team that built the new Forensic Center during a global pandemic. Mr. Dertinger brought that project in on time and under budget. A feat that’s normally impossible to achieve, let alone during a time of stay-at-home orders and massive supply chain disruptions.

"Mr. Dertinger and I have been working together on a shared vision of county governance since at least 2005. Many of the things I care about, he cared about first. The preservation of open and green space comes to mind. Many of the successes of our Administration have come due to his efforts in helping implement our initiatives.

"Despite his Election failures of 2019 and 2023, the foregoing reasons stated is why his resignation is regrettable. I wish him well in his future endeavors."

West Easton Blogger and Borough Council Member Matt Dees Has Passed Away

Matt Dees, a West Easton Borough Council member and local blogger, lost his battle with cancer a few days ago and has passed away. 

A Navy sub veteran, he moved here from Nevada in 1992, and settled in West Easton in 2012. Before he ever ran for local office, he established a blog presence in West Easton, and even prepared videos of many oft he borough council meetings. He was elected to borough council in 2016, and served as President for two years.

He promoted transparency and accountability, both in public office and on his blog.  

I was proud to consider him a friend and am very saddened to learn of his death. I've never seen him lose his temper, even under the most trying of circumstances. If I had concerns about a story, I could always talk to him and get good advice, which I usually ignored. 

Dees was also a bus driver for special needs children, although I believe he recently retired. 

I learned of his death as a result of anonymous comments I received from a West Easton resident gloating about it. Some of you know who this person is. I'll leave it at that. I am unwilling to share details about his funeral arrangements. He may have been a proponent of transparency, but should be able to rest in peace.    

Free Lead Inspections For E Bangor Municipal Authority Customers

Northampton County, Slate Belt Rising and East Bangor Municipal Authority (EBMA) have formed a partnership to offer free safety assessments of the interior water lines of any EBMA customers. According to Executive Lamont McClure,"[L]ead exposure has been shown harmful to very young children and has been linked to affect brain development, contribute to learning-behavioral problems and lower IQs."

If lead is detected in any homes, a licensed plumber will be hired to replace fixtures at no cost to the owner. 

A notice of eligibility letter will be sent directly to the homes of residents in the East Bangor Municipal Authority service area. For more information on this program, or if you need assistance with applying, contact Brian Fenstermaker with Slate Belt Rising at 484-523-0900. Walk-in application assistance is available on Wednesday – Friday from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Bangor Borough Building (197 Pennsylvania Avenue, Bangor, PA 18013).

According to a Northampton County statement, it plans to expand this program to other areas in the County.

According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of lead poisoningare usually udetected until they rech dangerous levels. In children, symptoms include Developmental delay, Learning difficulties, Irritability, Loss of appetite, Weight loss, Sluggishness and fatigue, Abdominal pain, Vomiting, Constipation, Hearing loss, Seizures and Eating things, such as paint chips, that aren't food. In adults, symptoms include High blood pressure, Joint and muscle pain, Difficulties with memory or concentration, Headache, Abdominal pain, Mood disorders, Reduced sperm count and abnormal sperm and Miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth in pregnant women.

I havemost of those symptoms myself right now. There must have been lead in my Thanksgiving dinner.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

After Three Hours of Complaints, NorCo Elections Comm'n Certifies Nov. 7 Municipal Election Results

50 voters present 30 minutes before meeting
There were over three hours of complaints yesterday from 42 people inside the courthouse cafeteria. They were not there to rail about the food but had another menu on their minds. It was the November 7 election menu. Voters were unhappy to see their choices in the Superior Court retention race switched. Unlike getting a hamburger when you order a cheeseburger, this is a bit more serious. So when the Northampton County's Election Commission met to review and certify the results, they were greeted by an overflow crowd of well over 100 people. Most urged the Elections Commission to refuse to certify. Some, mostly from Lower Saucon Tp, argued that a refusal to certify would disenfranchise the thousands of voters who already voted.  After everyone spoke, the Elections Commission certified the results in a 4-1 vote. 

Those who voted to certify were Chair Sharon Gavin-Levy, Daniel Lopresti, Margie DeRenzis and Vicki Evert. Scott Hough was the lone No vote.

Commissioner comments 

Noting that his term expires at the end of this year, Hough said he doubts he'll be reappointed. He was disturbed that the Lamont McClure administration ignored an unanimous request from the elections commission to establish a second drop box in the northern tier of the county (Region 4) to make voting more convenient to people to vote in that largely rural (and Republican) part of the county. He added that his request for a "special meeting" was rejected. Hough finally condemned the communication between the elections office and poll workers on election day. "This was really bad," he observed. "I think we all know that."  

Before the vote, elections commission solicitor Richard Santee advised the board they had no choice.  He stated that, unless there is an existing challenge or an outstanding petition for a recount, state law (25 P.S. Section 3154) mandates that they certify.  

Prior to the vote, Commissioner DeRenzis noted that the issue only affected the retention races for Superior Court and no others. Through questioning of Registrar Chris Commini, she established that the Superior Court retention race was statewide, and how Northampton County voted had no consequential impact. Of the remaining races, she said "[w]e have no reason to believe that these votes were not calculated correctly."

Comm'r Lopresti advocates contingency planning
Commissioner Lopresti, himself a computer scientist, established that every machine is tested for a period of three days prior to an election. But he suggested that a random sampling of a number of machines with more rigorous testing to catch any programming error or machine defect. He also recommended that "contingency planning is done" in the event machines have to be abandoned. 

Chair Gavin-Levy, who thankfully called for a 10-minute break after three hours of public comment, suggested that "[w]e need to do a better job of training." 

ES&S apologizes ... again

Adam Carbullido is an executive at ES&S, which supplied the Express Vote XL voting machine used in Northampton County. He is also becoming something of an apology expert and might just have a career at Hallmark if ES&S goes tets up. 

Carbullido got his first job at “I am sorry for the pain I caused you, I feel so bad.” during the 2019 election, when many of the machines sent to the county were never properly aligned at the factory. That error was somehow missed during election pretesting (called logic and accuracy testing) that is supposed to be run on each of the county's 350-plus voting machines. 

He's apologizing again. He apologized to un unhappy County Council last week and did it again yesterday after hearing from a mostly angry and suspicious public. "It wasn't pleasant to hear, but it was important that I hear it."

He noted that one of the changes his company will make as a result of pretesting failure will be the preparation of a spreadsheet comparing a card ballot printout with an actual paper ballot. "I'm confident we can prevent this kind of mistake from happening again," he predicted. 

Registrar Report 

Voting Registrar Chris Commini first went through the turnout statistics, which also can be seen on the county election website. Turnout was 33.18%  The turnout at the precincts on election day was 21.5%. He added that there's been an increase in the number of Republicans who now choose to vote by mail. He said that Republicans cast 6,022 mail-in ballots, an increase form the 5,276 votes cast by Republicans in the 2021 Municipal General Election. 

In response to questions from elections commissioners, Commini stated that the Department of State was notified as soon as the problem was discovered. He said his office initially told election judges to suspend using the machine in favor of emergency ballots. Each precinct was supplied with 20 emergency ballots and 25 provisional ballots. All of the remaining instructions to elections officials were court ordered.  

He indicated that there was no way to print additional ballots in house, and acknowledged authorizing a Nazareth precinct to copy some ballots on its own. They were reconciled with other emergency ballots during the canvass.

He stated that having so few ballots was a problem he inherited. He indicated that more emergency ballots will be prepared in the event this problem occurs again, and that there will be runners on hand to provide them to precincts.

Commini also relieved an election judge who refused to comply with a court order authorizing a return to using the Express Vote Xl.

Anti-certification Arguments 

Thomas Little, a cardiologist from Williams Township, said "[w]e are asked to have faith in a system that has not earned our trust. ... Do not certify. Do not accept this travesty/" 

He was echoed by Maryann Morales, a Hanover 4 election judge. "How do we know if what you're telling us is the truth?" she asked. Then she admitted advising voters that there would be a special election in the superior court retention races.  She was joined by another Hanover 4 election worker, Robin Given. She argued "the thought of certifying this election is reprehensible."

Forks Tp voter Kathleen Gain stated her precinct was closed 1 1/2 hours. When she learned of the switch in the appellate court retention race, she asked "[h]ow do I know anything else matched?"

Nazareth carpenter Al Smith had a suggestion for replacing electronic voting machine with another kind of machine - a wooden box with a lock. He even offered to make them. 

Theresa Heese (sp?) suggested that Northampton County should start conducting elections like they do in Georgia. "Why does this always happen to Republicans?" she lamented.

NorCo GOP Chair Glenn Geissinger said he has 100 affidavits from voters who experienced problems. He argued against certifying results. He said that instead, the elections commission should investigate and never use the XL again,

Attorney Kevin Danyi, who represented the county GOP in court on election day, noted the irony. "In 2019, we were told to trust the card. In 2023, we were told to trust the machine."

State Rep. Milou MacKenzie called on Executive Lamont McClure to resign, stating the election is "his responsibility." "Maybe you voted Republican and a  'glitch' changed it to Democrat. She added "[i]t is un-American to have voters go to a poll and find the door is locked."

Pro-certification arguments

Most of the pro-certification arguments came from successful candidates in various races as well as Lower Saucon Tp residents who worked for candidates opposed to a landfill expansion. Some of them agreed with many of the complaints, but argued against "throwing out the baby with the bath water," as Lower Saucon voter Lynn Hill put it.

NorCo Dem party Chair Matt Munsey defended the elections office. "I believe the office did everything to the best of their ability." Few would dispute that contention.* He noted the staff size has increased since 2019 and is always professional and courteous. He also noted that certification is a "formality" that actually starts the clock ticking for those who wish to file legal challenges.    

John Boulette, a successful Wind Gap Borough Council candidate, conceded there were "serious problems," but they were with the pre-election testing, not the machine itself. 

Victoria Opthof Cordaro and Pricilla deLeon, who waged successful campaigns for Lower Saucon Township Council, argued that a refusal to certify would disenfranchise those who voted for them. Several of those voters added their voices to that argument. Two of them were Republicans who voted for Democrats because they oppose the landfill expansion


*) In my experience, the elections office is the best-run row office in the county.  

UPDATED 11:15 amNorthampton County's election results are now marked "official."

Judge race: Brian Panella won with 54.31% of the vote, defeating Nancy Aaroe by 6,103 votes.

County Controller: Tara Zrinski won with 54.11% of the vote, defeating John Cusick by 5,818 votes. 

County Council I: Ken Kraft (63.14%) over Bill Rowe by 4,304.

County Council III: Jeff Warren (56.28%) over Casey Foreman by 2,500.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

9-1. Need I Say More?


And Jason Kelce finally beat his kid brother Travis. 

NorCo Election: Election Comm'n Meeting Today, Audit on Friday

Now that the canvass of Northampton County's 2023 municipal election is complete, the Elections Comm'n is poised to meet today at 3 pm in the courthouse cafeteria (lower level). The main purpose of this meeting is for board members to certify the election results to the state. This is a ministerial task and is actually what triggers possible election challenges. 

The five members of the elections commission are selected by the Executive and confirmed by County Council from a list of five nominees submitted by the two political parties who received the highest number of votes in the most recent general election. They serve for two years.  

The current elections commission consists of Chair Sharon Gavin-Levy, Daniel Lopresti, Margie DeRenzis, Scott Hough and Vicki Evert. Their terms all expire at the end of this year. 

Before the tally is certified, the public will be afforded an opportunity to weigh in and recount their experience at the most recent election. 

In addition to certifying the results, the elections commission will receive a report from Registrar Chris Commini. I am told that representatives from ES&S, vendor of the Express Vote XL voting system, will be on hand to explain what happened. 

Given that so many members of the public are upset by the fiasco on Election Day, I imagine the meeting will be packed. 

Following the vote certification, a statistical audit of thye November 7 election will take place on Friday, November 24, at 10 am, in Room 1211 on the first floor of the county courthouse.   

Monday, November 20, 2023

Voter Verifiable Ballots Will Help Minimize Election Errors

Over the weekend, I received a comment from a reader suggesting that "newer technology HAS already disrupted and changed final totals all across this nation." He suggests that if a system fails more than once, it should be replaced. "Accurate elections are too important," he concludes. I'll agree that newer technology, combined with mail-in ballots, have undermined public confidence in election integrity. But under this reader's logic, we'd have to get rid of democracy entirely to fix this problem. That is because ALL voting systems fail, and more than once. This can be established through our own history of voting. The only difference between the problems with elections now and those under other systems is that we are acutely aware of these problems on election day. That is because of voter verifiable ballots, under which voters can see for themselves if their intentions are being honored. Thus, when a problem is discovered on election day, voters are the first to know.

Voting in America was originally "viva vocce." If you were white, male and over 21, you'd go to the courthouse on election day, swear an oath and publicly announce your choices in front of everyone who was in there, actively campaigning. Obviously, the potential for fraud and abuse was great. You could easily sell your vote. But turnouts were great and alcohol flowed freely. 

To prevent that, elections officials decided to replace voice voting with secret paper ballots. At its advent, you could just scrawl your candidate's name on any piece of paper. Then political parties got wise, and began preparing their own ballots (called tickets) that you could throw in the box. This led to accusations of voter fraud and ballot box stuffing, something that I'm told (anecdotally) did happen here as ballot boxes made their way to the courthouse from the four corners of the county. 

In an effort to prevent this kind of fraud. the first green monster - a heavy lever voting machine - was invented and widely used in America throughout the 20th century. Like an old Crown Victoria, something about those hulking machines inspired confidence. Draped in a privacy curtain, you could select individual levers or straight party and then cast your ballot by pulling the main lever to open the curtain. You'd hear a solid thud and would be confident that your vote was cast. 

But did your vote actually count? Behind that secure curtain, there were problems

"For one, these machines had thousands of moving parts. They required careful maintenance and were difficult to test. When the last machines were produced in 1982, fixing and replacing worn parts became nearly impossible. Lever voting machines were also not tamperproof: they were vulnerable to the very technicians who were supposed to maintain them. The machines were also inaccessible to voters with physical limitations: the labels with candidates’ names were hard to see, and pulling the levers required strength and mobility."

As the teeth on gears began to wear, the result would be miscounts rarely caught by elections officials. Everyone had confidence in and loved these behemoths, but they were increasing undercounts in elections. 

Some jurisdictions began replacing the lever machines with punch cards, but that was a nightmare. We witnessed that during the 2020 Presidential, when election workers in Florida had to decide whether a dimpled or hanging chad should count.   

Northampton County fought to keep the lever machines in place as long as it could, but eventually had to replace them. 

In its first foray into life beyond the lever, NorCo chose what may very well have been the worst voting machine in the US. - the AVS WinVote. This system was so bad that music on your cell phone could cause it to go haywire. To make matters worse, the version NorCo used in an election had never been certified. Oops!

touchscreen that looked like a lever machine
Northampton County then opted for 300 touch screen voting machines that at least looked like the old lever machines. - the Advantage D-10. This heavy (200 pounds) touchscreen computer was user friendly, even to those who are differently abled. People really liked using it, and I'm unaware of any problems with it other than screen sensitivity. But it had one major drawback. Just like its green cousin, there was no way for a voter to determine if his touchscreen choices were actually registered. 

In response to concerns that there be a paper trail, Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act, which required the states, over time, to have a paper record of each vote cast, and one that the voter himself could verify. 

That's how Northampton County ended up with the Express Vote XL, which combines the convenience of a touch screen with a summary card on which you can review your choices. If you dislike them, you can spoil your ballot and choose again before casting your vote. Some people liked paper ballots that could be scanned, but I liked the redundancy of having my vote on both a flash drive and paper ballot, and with the understanding that the paper ballot rules. 

In 2019 and again this year, there have been problems with this system. The machine itself has been fine. It has been certified and recertified. It survived challenges in both federal and state court. There have been problems with programming, pre-election testing and having paper ballot backups at the polls. This has understandably created a crisis of confidence. But these are problems that would never have been noticed but for the voter verifiable ballot. 

Like you, I'm unhappy to see just one voter deprived of that right, which certainly happened. But thanks to the paper trail, voters and elections officials were able to detect a problem and make attempts to fix it. 

The days of blissful ignorance are over.  Our confidence in the green lever machines was misplaced. The paper trails we see on elections day can make them more sloppy and chaotic. But they will be more accurate. 

Friday, November 17, 2023

Lamont McClure on the Hot Seat

NorCo Exec Lamont McClure and ES&S both apologized at last night's meeting of County Council for the numerous Election Day issues last week. There was a coding error by ES&S in preparing the ballot for use in the municipal race. This error was subsequently missed by both ES&S and county officials during the pre-election testing (known as L&A) before the election. This made the voter verifiable ballot inaccurate in an appellate court retention race. Use of the Express Vote XL voting machine was temporarily halted while election officials scrambled to determine what had happened and why. In the meantime, voters were instructed to vote on emergency provisional ballots. but quickly ran out of them. Some precincts actually turned voters away. Despite the apologies and explanations, McClure was on the hot seat for about two hours as Council members John Goffredo and Lori Vargo Heffner hammered away repeatedly. 

The meeting started with complaints from three members of the public, two of whom insisted that someone needs to be fired. NorCo GOP Chair Glenn Geissinger was among them. He observed that this is the second election since the county began using the Express Vote XL in which problems arose.  He noted the apparent inconsistency between what voters were told in 2019 and 2023. "In 2019, we were told that what is on the card is what's recorded. Don't worry about it if the electronic device has a little bit of a glitch. Not a problem. We got the card. In 2023 we are being told the electronic machine is what's ok. Please ignore the card. Which is it?" He urged the county to get rid of the XL and purchase a new system. 

McClure said that he personally apologizes to "any voter who suffered for any inconvenience or worse on Election Day. He said that election officials contacted the Department of State as soon as they became aware of the issue. Under guidance from the state, the elections office obtained a court order to inform the public of the issue. He noted the error was a "printer only" error and that vote tabulation was accurate. He indicated election results will be audited on November 24 at 10 am." He indicated that pre-election testing will be strengthened. He agreed that it is important to restore public confidence in election integrity. 

Goffredo demanded that someone be fired, even if it is a "sacrificial lamb to let people know we take this job seriously ... ." McClure dismissed the notion of terminating people just to make a point. 

Goffeedo said he spoke to people who were unable to vote because they had to return to work. He vowed to resign unless McClure fires someone. He insisted that election day turnout among voters who voted at the polls was lower in 2023 than in 2021. As I've reported previously, election day turnout at the precincts was 22.17% in 2021 and 21.4% in 2023. There was little difference, and McClure told Goffredo that part of the reason for this slight decrease is that more Republicans are finally voting by mail instead of in person.  But Goffredo ignored him. "I'm talking and you're listening," he declared to the Exec.

McClure rejected Goffredo's call for a new system, saying it would guarantee errors during a Presidential election next year. He said a new system "will necessarily fail" because a new system would have a learning curve with both voters and election workers. "That's a terrible attitude," responded Goffredo. 

Eventually, Council President Kerry Myers reeled Goffredo in, and cautioned against the constant "jab, hook, jab, hook."

Council member Lori Vargo Heffner used this mishap to vent about her own differences with McClure. She accused his administration of being "terse" or "flip" [sic[ with her and Council. She advised ES&S against "falling on the sword for anybody" in an apparent jab at the McClure administration. She wondered why this issue was not brought up before last month's Governance Committee. As McClure noted, it's a bit unrealistic for election officials to discuss a problem before they know it exists. 

She complained that Council's relationship with the Exec is "devolving," and proved her point because when McClure attempted to respond, she cut him off with "I'm not asking a question; I'm speaking." Then she almost immediately told him she wants answers. 

McClure explained that Amy Cozze, when the was voting registrar, stopped the practice of loading up election judges with paper ballots because they were too heavy and costly. He made clear that practice will change.

He added that, so far as he knows, elections office staff never told a single election judge to turn voters away, but it happened. He added that some election judges never turned on the county-supplied phones to communicate with the elections office.  He indicated that Human Relations will be interviewing elections office workers to determine more precisely what happened. 

Council member John Cusick told ES&S he no longer trusts them or has confidence in their machines., He said that, in the future, he will vote by mail or use early voting to cast his ballot. 

Council member John Brown stated that elections office personnel might be career service or union, but the office is ultimately run by Administrator Charles Dertinger, who serves at the pleasure of the Exec.

Council member Tom Giovanni, himself a computer expert, agreed there is nothing wrong with the XL. He attributed what happened to human error in the coding and subsequent testing. 

Thursday, November 16, 2023

NorCo Pay Study: Nonunion Workers Paid 95% of What Is Paid in 17 Other Counties

Scott Schreiber, Managing Director of Bolton USA, updated Northampton County Council yesterday on a pay study his firm is conducting of the county's 434 career service employees, who make up 22% of the workforce. He has enough information to discuss pay based on information about 6,000 jobs in 17 other third and fourth class counties. No comparison to private firms or union wages was made. His firm is still compiling data to compare benefits. 

His preliminary findings:

Northampton County currently pays 95% of what career service employees are paid in similar jobs elsewhere.  

A large number(257) of career service employees are stuck in the beginning three steps. "That's a little bit unusual," said Schreiber.

His recommendations:

Step increases should be 2.25% so they can be funded every year.

Increase the number of steps.

Fund a step increase and career service will be where it should be. 

Executive Lamont McClure stated that former Exec John Stoffa tried 2.25% steps "and they went away because they were so unpopular," But he's happy to see that the pay study reveals that nonunion workers are being paid 95% of what is paid in 17 other third and fourth class counties.  

Step increases should be awarded more frequently to prevent salary compression and improve morale.  


Lehigh County To Offer Inmates a State ID on Release

From Lehigh Valley Justice Initiative:  Kudos to the Lehigh County Commissioners and administration who have chosen to initiate an ID program that would ensure recently released individuals and those pending release from incarceration, would successfully be able to obtain a Pennsylvania state ID free of charge! As was demonstrated by LVJI’s recent re-entry simulation, one of the main and major problems upon release for many individuals is the lack of resources needed to obtain a state ID, which is vital for employment, housing, assistance programs, banking, entering many federal buildings, etc. As Executive Director Joe Welsh states, LVJI advocates the critical need for re-entry programming to begin inside jails and prisons BEFORE release. Efforts like this promote tangible changes that will greatly reduce recidivism.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

NorCo Election: Cusick Concedes Controller Race, Canvass Continues And Includes Provisional Ballots

At yesterday's budget hearing conducted by NorCo Council, Council member John Cusick conceded his race for Controller to fellow Council member Tara Zrinski.

"I'd like to congratulate our new Controller," said Cusick. Zrinski was gracious in response. "Thank you very much, John. I really appreciate the race that we ran. I felt it was primarily positive and that you were a very good opponent."

In a not-so-subtle reference to the election mishaps last week, Cusick also announced that he'll be voting by mail next year.  

Speaking of that election, results are still unofficial, but they now include 199 provisional ballots. 

Overall turnout now stands at 33.11%. This is slightly higher than the 32.5% turnout in the 2021 municipal election. This turnout figure suggests that most who wanted to vote were able to do so. Without question, some voters were unable to cast ballots at precincts that temporarily closed and were thus deprived of their  most basic right - active suffrage. 

You might say that overall turnout might be higher, but that many voters who chose to exercise their franchise on election day were deprived of that right. 

Election Day turnout in the 2021 municipal was 22.17%. This year, it currently stands at 21.56%. So even with the problems, election day turnout in this race was about the same as it was two years ago. 

There is no doubt in my mind that some voters were unable to vote, and there is no excuse for denying that most basic of rights. But if there was an intention to suppress turnout, it failed. The numbers tell us actual and even election day turnout are about where they were two years ago..    

Democrats maintain a huge lead in the countywide, district council and city races. While some of you might attribute this to admitted election day problems, the margin of victory is simply too huge for those issues to have made a meaningful difference. Nationwide, Democrats won big last week. In Northampton County, another reason why Dems succeeded is that Republicans can't seem to get out of their own way. Yesterday, Lehigh Tp Supervisors Cynthia Miller blasted the county party leadership on a local radio station and blamed the loss on them. 

Below are down ballot close races: (50 votes or less). Most of the leaders in these down ballot races are Republican. 

Bangor Area School Board: Michael Goffredo over Courtney Gilmour by 50 votes.

Naz Area School Board II: Chris Miller over Jason Swails by 37 votes. 

North. Area School Board II: Brian McCulloch over David Gogel by 43 votes. 

Northern Lehigh School Board: Mathias Matt Green leads Glen A Williams by 6 votes.

Lehigh Tp Supervisor: Michael F Jones leads Phillip Gogel by 47 votes. 

Lower Mt Bethel Tp Supervisor: Dave Ascani is ahead of Sandra Newman by 47 votes.

Lower Nazareth Tp Supervisor: Nancy Teague leads Robert Hoyer by 48 votes.

Glendon Borough Council: Kathryn Harstine leads Jeffrey Muschlitz by 2 votes. 

North Catasauqua Borough Council: Jessica Cope is ahead of Scott Homes by 5 votes. 

Roseto Borough Council: Mark A Goffredo, Jr, leads Carl Renna by 7 votes. 

Tatamy Borough Council: Michael Lester leads Daniel Dewey by 12 votes. 

Bangor Borough Council: Marc Sperling is ahead of Forest Myers by 25 votes. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

NorCo Election 2023: Election Mess May Have Suppressed Vote in 11 Down-Ballot Races

Bangor Area School District: Michael Goffredo leads Courtney Gilmour by 48 votes.

Northampton Area School District Region III: Brian McCulloch leads David Gogel by 45 votes.

As most of you know by now, Northampton County's election last Tuesday was a disaster. A simple coding area in the retention races for Superior Court was missed when the voting machines went through their pre-election testing. This error was discovered by two Forks Tp voters early on election day, and for several hours, the county had to stop using its $2.9 million machine and issue emergency paper ballots to voters. Though each precinct is supposed to have enough paper ballots to permit everyone who is registered to cast a ballot, most election judges only had a handful. As a result, some voting places ran out of paper and were telling voters to return later. By late morning, a court order authorized elections officials to continue with the machines despite a paper receipt that failed to reflect the voter's intent. All of this amounted to voter suppression. How many voters saw what was going on, turned around and left? How many voters had no opportunity to return because of other commitments? Did this affect the election results?  

In most of the races, No. The margins of victory were so large in the countywide and district council races that thousands of people would need to attest they were turned away or had no choice but to leave.  But this voter suppression may have affected 11 down ballot races where margins of victory are under 50 votes. I've listed them below. 

There is an important public policy that favors finality in elections, Persons who claim they were turned away or told to come back later in these 11 down-ballot races would probably need to sue, and very quickly. I doubt much relief will be available even if they do. 

Having said that, there is little doubt in my mind that this "minor error" did suppress the vote and deprive people of their most basic right. That's why it's a mistake to try to minimize what happened. 

In 2019, after the last election mess, Executive Lamont McClure vowed, "We will do better." He actually did worse in one of the most basic functions of county government. 

Right now, the canvassing of the vote is ongoing. I have no idea whether all emergency ballots have been tallied and have seen no results for provisionals. Once the official count is complete, the county really needs to conduct a thorough after action review.

This is why we need an independent Controller. 

Close Races

Northern Lehigh School Board: Mathias Matt Green leads Glen a Williams by 6 votes.

Lehigh Tp Supervisor: Michael F Jones leads Phillip Gogel by 45 votes. 

Lower Mt Bethel Tp Supervisor: Dave Ascani is ahead of Sandra Newman by 45 votes.

Lower Nazareth Tp Supervisor: Nancy Teague leads Robert Hoyer by 48 votes.

Glendon Borough Council: Kathryn Harstine leads Jeffrey Muschlitz by 2 votes. 

North Catasauqua Borough Council: Jessica Cope is ahead of Scott Homes by 5 votes. 

Roseto Borough Council: Mark A Goffredo, Jr, leads Carl Renna by 7 votes. 

Tatamy Borough Council: Michael Lester leads Daniel Dewey by 12 votes. 

Bangor Borough Council: Marc Sperling is ahead of Forest Myers by 26 votes. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

NorCo Elections Commission to Meet 11/21, 3 pm

Northampton County government is immersed in issues like warehouses and workforce housing. It probably focuses more time on Gracedale, the county-owned nursing home, than any other topic. As important as these issues are, they have nothing to do with county government. Elections, on the other hand, are very much a function of county government. Under the state elections code, counties are responsible for all aspects of running an election. Last Tuesday, Northampton County blew it. As a result of what Executive Lamont McClure has repeatedly called a "glitch" or minor technical error affecting only the retention votes in two Superior Court races, the entire election day was a mess. What happened certainly undermines public confidence in the integrity of our elections. There will be a meeting of the Elections Commission on November 21, 3 pm, to seek explanations from the county and from ES&S, the county's election machine vendor. I certainly would hold off on certifying results until there is more clarity.  I would also hope that the meeting is on Youtube for heightened transparency. 

What we know. - We know that there was a simple coding error when ES&S prepared the  ExpressVote XL voting machines for the election. We also know that this error was missed during the pre-election testing of the machines, called logic and accuracy testing. Nobody bothered to check what would happen if a voter selected Yes in one race and No in another. This made the paper ballot appear as though a voted who said Yes to one judge actually said No. A court order issued sometime that morning permitted this to continue, based on assurances from the same coding experts who screwed things up  that the votes were safely recorded on the touchscreen despite what the paper ballot might say. In other words, ignore the paper receipt. This is antithetical to the very purpose of that paper receipt. 

Northampton County failed the public it serves in a core county function - elections, It's the second time since 2019. In 2019, we were told to forget the touch screen because the paper receipts were right. Now we are told to forget the paper receipts because the touchscreens are right.  This Orwellian advice is absurd. From the point this problem was discovered, the machine voting should have stopped completely so that people could fill out emergency ballots. 

What we don't know. - During a presser on election day, Charles Dertinger assured us that once this problem was discovered, elections officials were instructed to start using emergency and provisional ballots until a court order was obtained. He said some precincts ran low on emergency ballots and had to resort to provisional ballots, but everyone who wanted to vote could do so,

This is incorrect. Numerous posts on social media make very clear that some precincts actually closed shop and turned voters away. They either had no emergency ballots or quickly ran out of them. This suppressed the vote. I doubt it did so in a way that would impact the election, but this should be investigated. Every election judge should be interviewed to determine whether she closed the polling place, and if so, for how long. They should be asked to approximate how many voters were turned away. Then turnout this year should be compared to turnout in 2019, to see if it is lower. In some other precincts, election judges never turned on their phones and were blissfully unaware there was a problem. 

We also don't know how the pre-election testing could be so flawed. Was this wholly ES&S or does the county bear part of the blame? 

How Will Zrinski Vacancy Be Filled?

 Over the weekend, a reader emailed me with these questions: "If I understand correctly, when Tara Z. Is sworn in as Controller in January, County Council will have 30 days to fill her vacant seat. How does Council do that? Because she is a Democrat, will her replacement be a Democrat? Does Lamont McClure propose a possible replacement? Does Council take “applications” from Northampton County residents that would meet the the qualifications necessary to sit on Council? And then Council decides amongst those “applicants?” I have not been able to find out how this works. I looked through the County Charter, online, but was unable to find anything about this procedure."

Although election results have yet to be certified, it is highly unlikely that John Cusick will be unable to overcome a 5,706 deficit as the official count continues this week. I'd agree that Zrinski will be the next controller, but will hold on to her County Counci seat until the last possible moment to prevent an anti-McClure Council from filling it with someone other than McClure's own pick.

Once Zrinski resigns, The Home Rule Charter provides that County Council must appoint someone to fill out the remainder of her term within 30 days after the position becomes vacant. (See Section 105). If unable to do so, a member of Council or any five registered voters can askthe courts to make an appointment, which must be done within 15 days of filing the petition. (See Section 105).

Whether it is County Council or the courts who appointe, the person selected must be a US Citizen who has resided continuously in the county for a year before the commencement of the term. (Section 103).

In Lehigh County, the person appointed must be a member of the same party as the person who left office. But in Northampton County, there is no such requirement. In fact, Council or the courts could appoint someone who never even registered to vote at all. The only prohibitions to appointment in the Charter are for paid county employees and officers of political parties.(Section 104). The state constitution also bars people convicted of "infamous crimes" from holding any office of trust. (Pa. Const. Art II, Sec. 7).

The Home Rule Charter imposes no requirement that Council seek applications ort interview interested people. But traditionally, County Council does ask for applications and will interview all interested parties. 

In January, Council will be firmly in the hands of Democrats. Ken Kraft, Kevin Lott, Kelly Keegan and Jeff Warren are also acolytes for Executive Lamont McClure, They will push for his pick. They will need a fifth vote from either Ron Heckman or Lori Vargo Heffner, both of whom are more independent.  

Happy 90th Birthday to Bill Malkames!

Bill with Bill Jr. after a race

Happy 90th birthday to Allentown legal legend Bill Malkames. At a time when many of us have been postmarked, RETURN TO SENDER, he’s still going strong. Just last week, he had two matters before the Allentown Zoning Board and won both.

In addition to his legal prowess, Bill was at one time the dominant racer for over 40 biathlons and even triathlon. He’d spend a full day in the office, followed by hours of training. In his 50s, he once defeated the entire team sent by West Point to compete in a biathlon.

He loves practically all sports but had to wait until he was through law school to play himself because he was super smart and was pushed through high school and college at a very young age. I often saw him at my grandson’s high school and college games. He also followed his sons and grandsons, driving as long as eight hours one way just to watch them play.

At a party in his honor, I met his (now retired) secretary of 41 years, Mary. She’s 91. She attributes her longevity and great health to growing up on a farm and constantly going up and down the steps in Bill’s office. Bill's longevity is in no doubt due to an elixir he stores in bottles marked Sangria,

Bill is very competitive but does have a weakness - Hearts. He loves to play and once traveled to Las Vegas for a Hearts tournament. But he only wins about 90% of the games he plays here.

I hope Bill lives at least another 90 years.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Coleman Wins Sunshine Act Victory in Commonwealth Court

A three-judge panel of Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court has sided with Jarrett Coleman (now a State Senator) in his contention that Parkland School District violated Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act in 2021. It did so when it approved a collective bargaining agreement with its teachers' union without first giving the public 24 hours of advance notice. The school district did advertise the meeting and an agenda, but failed to include the agreement giving teachers a raise. 

"“Today’s decision is a huge victory for government transparency,” Senator Coleman said. “What this decision means is that the public has a right to have advance notice of actions its government will consider taking before every meeting.”

The Sunshine Act does permit agencies like Parkland School District to amend agendas, but only for emergencies and de minimis matters.

Coleman also asked the court to invalidate the agreement because of the violation, but the court noted that invalidating an official action for a Sunshine Act violation is discretionary, not automatic.

Coleman's lawsuit against Parkland was filed by Attorney J. Chadwick Schnee. Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association (PNA) also filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Coleman’s position.

Should Exec Lamont McClure Resign Over Election Imbroglio?

State Rep. Milou MacKenzie, whose son is running for Congress, is calling for Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure's resignation over a coding error that was missed when the Express Vote XL voting system was tested prior to Tuesday's election.  McClure has dismissed it as a "relatively minor" error that only impacted the Superior Court retention races. But without question, it impacted the entire election. Machines were shut down in many precincts, and voters were asked to fill out emergency and provisional ballots. In others, voters were simply told to come back later. In still others, elections judges never turned on their phones instructing them to stop using machines. All of this undermines public confidence in our elections at a time when this keystone to democratic government is being assailed by Donald Trump and his myrmidons. It's especially troubling because this is the second time, In 2019, poor pre-election testing led to disaster at the polls. But rather than chop off heads, I'd like to see the L&A (logic and accuracy) testing improved. 

Some people are blaming the Express Vote XL machines. They also call McClure a sexist because of his "Milou who?" response to her attack.  That's ridiculous.

There is nothing remotely sexist in what McClure said about MacKenzie. The reason he would say "Milou who?" is because she only represents one or two precincts of this county and is largely invisible here. If you want to talk about sexism, look no further than GOP presidential contender Ramaswamy, who reffered to Nikki Haley as a "Dick Cheney with thre-inch heels."

As far the Epress Vote XL, it is the best voting machine out there. I say this as someone who worked with that machine. It gives you the convenience of a touch screen combined with a paper ballot receipt. It is the best of both worlds. It is also set up so that if one system fails, the other part will still work.

Unfortunately, we have a double error. First, the human error in coding the software. Then there was an error in doing the logic and accuracy testing. That is where this should have been picked up.

Although this error did only affect appellate court retention races, it screwed up the entire election. McClure has accpted responsibility.

I would not replace this system until its useful life is at an end. Doing so would cost millions in addition to the millions already spent, and would invite more errors as training on any new system is done. The proper thing to do is make sure you thoroughly test the machines. It is clear to me that the L&A testing was botched. ES&S failed to determine what would happen if you voted Yes in one appellate race and No in another. Had that happened on just one machine, the problem would have been discovered.

In any election, there are a finite number of selections possible. This finite number should be determined among the number of races out there and every possible combination should be tested. If you have just one race with four candidates, there are actually 24 different combinations or permulations. This is a branch of mathematics known as combinatorics. In this election with multiple races, there are several hundred thousand permulations. Just arriving at that figure would take me most of a day, let alone testing them.

My own knowledge of math is quite rusty. I am barely competent as a scorekeeper in a game of Hearts. I would not expect any election officials to be familiar with discrete mathematics or factorials. This is why ES&S is used.

I will say that once the machines are nearing the end of their useful life, we should probably join Lehigh and start going exclusively with paper. But I would want to see the ballots maerked with priovacy curtains.

Canvassing (Official Count) of NorCo Election Has Begun, 2,155 Emergency Ballots Added

The canvass or official count of Northampton County's Tuesday Municipal Election has begun. As of 5 pm yesterday, 2,155 emergency ballots have been counted and added to the totals. The canvass will continue on Monday, as today is Veterans' Day. Democrats lost ground in the judge and controller races, but added to their victory margin in county council races. 

Northampton County Judge - Brian Panella had a 6,030 vote margin over Nancy Aaroe on Tuesday night. That lead has dropped to 5,988 votes. He has 37,951 votes to 31,963 for Aaroe.  

Northampton County Controller. - Democrat Tara Zrinski had a 5,813 vote lead on Tuesday night, but it has dropped to 5,706 votes. She now has 37,642 votes to 31,936 for Cusick.  

NorCo Council District One (Bethlehem). - Democrat Ken Kraft was leading Republican Bill Rowe by 4,211 votes on Tuesday night. He now leads by 4,267 votes with 10,247 votes to 5,973 for Rowe. Kraft's lead has increased.

NorCo Council District Three (Nazareth) - Democrat Jeff Warren was ahead of Republican Casey Foreman by 2,469 votes on Tuesday night. He now leads by 2,452 votes, with 11,079 votes to 8,627 for Foreman.

Judge Jennifer Sletvold has a commanding lead of 10,784 votes in her retention race on Tuesday night. She noe leas by 11.039 votes.

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Bethlehem City Council Candidate's Reaction to NorCo Election Fiasco

I've received an email from Jim Follweiler, a candidate for Bethlehem City Council. I believe it was sent to be shared with you. A coding error, compounded by a failure to catch it during testing, affected all races on Tuesday. Here's what he says:

From Jim Follweiler, candidate for Bethlehem City Council.

I was a candidate affected by the Northampton County Voting Machine issue. I would like to provide some additional information that appears to have not made the county press conference or news outlets.

Sequence of events: I greeted voters at my polling location all day (Bethlehem Wards 14-2/14-2 at Wesley United Methodist Church on Center Street). Once the problem on the retention question was identified, the machines were "shut down" and they shifted to paper ballots. They quickly ran out of paper ballots at Ward 14-2 before the machines were turned back on; they then told voters they could not vote, were turned away with no record of names or how many were refused voting, and told to LEAVE AND COME BACK LATER. By this time, news outlets started reporting the issue. Once the machines were turned back on, voting officials informed people to vote opposite their answer on the electronic machine, then once the issue was better identified they changed their instructions saying the printed votes on the machine paper were flipped but not the electronic vote.

Opinion: These facts appear to have not made the county news conference and are more than a clerical error. Will anybody be held accountable or punished? These affected election retention questions cannot and should not be validated. There should be zero error in these machines in order to reinforce voter confidence in our elections. But election after election, electronic machines have issues. Is this another case of micro voter suppression, turning away voters from the polls with media reports that dissuaded how many more follow-on voters from then even coming out to vote, influencing future voter apathy toward having their votes counted, and trusting results of other current ballot races? We will never truly know the numbers. While these issues in the end would not have changed my election result, faith in accuracy in our election process deserves better.

NorCo Election Takeaways

Here are some of my election observations. Feel free to add your own.

1) Republicans are on the wrong side of a woman's right to choose.  - During the primary, Democrat Brian Panella barely mentioned this topic and was nearly defeated on his own side. In the general, he made sure voters were aware that he fully supports women's rights. It worked. We are very polarized, and I suspect few Democrats or Republicans would split their tickets. I believe Panella picked up most of the independents.

2) People like to be asked. - In the general election, Panella pounded the pavement, looking for votes in all four corners of the county. He visited hard-core conservative areas like the Slate Belt and Lehigh Tp, This strategy, conducted with a different campaign team than he used in the primary, probably won over some voters. In stark contrast, Council person John Cusick ran what I'd call a stealth campaign. He raised no money other than what he sunk into the race himself. He made no attempt to reach Democrats who would have supported him. 

3) Voters had little information. - Our local news outlets no longer have the staff to cover local government, and voters are left with little choice but to vote their party or for a person whose name they like. 

4) Landfill foes swept in Lower Saucon Tp. - I've received numerous comments over the past several months telling me that Lower Saucon Tp's silent majority supports the landfill. This narrative is contradicted by election results showing they swept in the Township Council races. 

5) Money matters. - Candidates like Jeff Warren and Ken Kraft spent a great deal of money. Kraft would likely have won anyway because his district is heavily Democrat. But Warren's district is much more competitive, and he outspent his largely invisible opponent by a large margin. 

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Unofficial Tally Shows Dems in Lead in Most NorCo County Races

With all 156 precincts reporting, the unofficial NorCo elections results show that Democrats lead in the contested races for county office. There's an important caveat. Numerous emergency and provisional ballots are outstanding, and will be counted during the canvass of the vote, which starts Thursday. 

NorCo Judge. - Democrat Brian Panella is ahead of Nancy Aaroe. He has 36,721 votes while she has 30,691. Unless Aaroe garners over 6,000 provisional and emergency ballots, Panella appears to be headed to victory in this race. 

NorCo Controller. - Democrat Tara Zrinski has 36,457 votes, while Republican John Cusick has just 30,644. Cusick ran a "stealth" campaign and it shows in this tally. 

NorCo Council District One (Bethlehem). - Democrat Ken Kraft leads Republican Bill Rowe by 9,897 to 5.686. 

NorCo Council District Three (Nazareth) - Democrat Jeff Warren leads Republican Casey Foreman by 10,696 to 8,227. 

Retention race - Judge Jennifer Sletvold has a commanding lead in her retention race with 33,626 Yes votes and 22,842 No votes. 

Double Error by ES&S Disrupted NorCo Election

A double error by Election Systems and Software (ES&S), Northampton County's election machine vendor, managed to completely disrupt yesterday's municipal election. 

The first mistake was a simple coding error by an ES&S employee. It completely screwed up the retention races for Superior Court President Judge Jack Panella and Judge Victor Stabile. Those who voted Yes were shown on the paper receipt as having voted done so, But those who voted Yes to Judge  Panella and No to Judge Stabile were shown as having voted No to Panella and Yes to Stabile.

The second mistake happened during something known as logic and accuracy (L&A)  testing. Before an election, every voting machine is placed through a series of tests to determine whether the votes cast on that machine are being tabulated accurately. The L&A testing failed to catch this coding or labelling error, likely because ES&S failed to try different combinations. 

Though the paper receipt showed that Yes votes for Panella were being counted as Nos, ES&S and county officials assured that the count would be correct on the USB drive that comes with every voting machine. 

This double error is two mistakes too many. At a news conference late yesterday afternoon (you can see it above), Executive Lamont McClure took the hit. "Ultimately, it is my responsibility," he acknowledged. He did downplay the problem as "relatively minor," but admitted these mistakes undermine public confidence in the integrity of our elections. 

They certainly do. Moreover, this double error in the appellate retention races managed to completely disrupt the entire election. 

ES&S provides the elections systems for over 30 Pennsylvania jurisdictions but only had this specific program in Northampton County. 

According to Administrator Charles Dertinger, the problem was brought to the attention of elections officials at about 7:15 am. They tested their own machine and confirmed it was a problem. At about 7:30 am, Dertinger states that elections officials notified all elections judges (every election judge is provided a county cell phone)to discontinue using the voting machines and instead issue emergency ballots to voters. If precincts ran out of emergency ballots, provisional ballots were used. At about 10 am, after a hearing before Judge Abe Kassis, elections judges were told they could return to using the machines because their vote on the screen will be the vote that ultimately is counted, regardless what the paper ballots show. Deringer said he would be "logistically impossible" to change the programming on all 365 machines in use in such a short time span.  

This "relatively minor" affecting only appellate court retention races had a negative impact on the entire election. Voting by machine was suspended at 7:30 am, forcing voters to use emergency and provisional ballots. That continued until after 10 am. 

The early morning hours are when a large segment of voters come in to vote on their way to work. Some voters in a hurry were told to come back later. How many did? How many people never bothered to sign in and simply turned around a left because of this "relatively minor" error?    

Moreover, a voter who sees that his vote in a race is not registering on the paper receipt has every right to complain and be distrustful of the entire process. This supposedly minor error undermine public confidence in the election. What happened certainly had at least a minor impact of election day turnout. Since most election day voters are Republican, I am sure they will argue that this "relatively minor" error affected candidates in close contested races. 

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Voting Machine Problem in NorCo Switching Votes in Superior Court Retention Race

Northampton County was experiencing issues with the Express Vote XL voting machine in the races being decided today. The problem is limited to the retention election in the appellate court races.  Those voting Yes were seeing a ballot that indicates No, and vice versa. As a result, voters were being provided with emergency paper ballots until the problem could be corrected. 

The Express Vote XL goes through a process called L&A  (logic and accuracy) testing prior to the election, but this coding error was missed by elections officials. 

It is unclear to me how to correct this L&A error for those voters who decided to cast their ballot knowing that their Yes would come up No and vice versa. Those votes could be reversed, but how does anyone really know what the voter really intended? 

According to Executive Lamont McClure stressed that this problem was limited to the appellate court races and had no impact on any local races or referendum questions.  

Needless to say, results in Northampton County will be delayed. 

Below is a news release from Northampton County:

"Northampton County Elections Office reports an issue with the recording of votes only for the races for retention to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, affecting Judge Jack Panella and Judge Victor P. Stabile."

"It appears that when a voter selects a "Yes" or a "No" for one of the candidates for retention to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the selection is recorded on the paper ballot and on the machine for the other candidate.

"The issue is limited to the retention of Superior Court Judges, and is only an issue when recording the votes for when a voter selected a "Yes" for one candidate and a "No" for another candidate.

"The Elections Division of the County of Northampton notified all poll workers by text message that they are to instruct voters before the voter enters the voting booth that there is an issue with the recording of their vote for the candidates for retention to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, that the paper receipt will record their selection for retention to the Pennsylvania Superior Court one candidate to the other candidate."

Update at 12:08 pm: Voter in Lower Saucon describes his experience: "Voted, but it was a mess. The county really needs to do a better job, the machines at SeWyCo don't work this morning, so I was handed a provisional ballot, no privacy of the polling booth, you had to sit in the middle of the hall and fill out your ballot in front of everybody and walk through to hand it over to an election worker who would just put it in a pile. The worst feeling about the security and privacy in my 22 years of voting. Then people ask why the public doesn't have trust in elections."

2:15 pm Update: I visited Nazareth's three precincts. Turnout appeared to be light. Two of the three precincts were manned by Democratic greeters. There were no GOP greeters. I spoke to a voter who proudly told me he voted straight Republican, except for Panella because he votes for Italians.

I heard from a voter in Easton who tells me that the switch in retention votes is still happening. 

3:15 pm Update: A news conference with the Express Vote XL manufacturer is scheduled. 

How Was Your Voting Eperience?

If you voted at the polls, feel free to share your experience at the precinct. Turnout heavy or light? Where did you vote? Any machine problems?  

Easton City Council's Foreign Affairs Division Poised to Take Up Ceasefire Resolution Again on Wednesday

On Wednesday, Easton City Council will once again take up the Israeli-Gaza ceasefire resolution being promoted by Council member Taiba Sultana. So far, only the United Nations has weighed in on this topic. The world awaits Easton. 

Last time this came up, Sultana packed the room with emotional supporters while she used every chance she had to promote herself and condemn others on Council, even suggesting to Roger Ruggles that city service "may not be for you." 

This time around, the Jewish community has been alerted. It opposes Sultana's ceasefire resolution because it is inappropriate for the city council level of government. 

You can submit your own message to Easton City Council on this topic. Here's what I sent. 

I urge you to reject Sultana's resolution because her sole purpose in presenting it is to promote herself, not a peaceful resolution of a centuries-old conflict. While we all condemn the loss of innocent life, I am primarily concerned about the loss of innocent Jewish and Muslim lives here in the Lehigh Valley. Sultana's resolution drives a wedge between our religious communities at a time when they should be united. Her divisive actions also could inspire attacks at both synagogues and mosques from people who hate Jews or Muslims.

Magisterial District Judge Alan Mege Also Pregnant

Yesterday, I shared the good news that Northampton County Council members John Goffredo and Tom Giovanni are both pregnant. Before last week's regular meeting, both parked in spots reserved for expectant mothers. I've since learned that Magisterial District Judge Alan Mege has a bun in the oven as well! 

Court sources tell me that during a one-week stint at the courthouse, he routinely parked in the spot reserved for pregnant women. Magisterial district judges like Mege adjudicate parking infractions and scofflaws all the time. It would be hypocritical of him to ignore parking rules when he is paid to penalize those who violate them.  So he must be preggo, too. 

Congratulations, Judge! 

Monday, November 06, 2023

Who Are Your Election Picks Tomorrow?

This election season, I've been quiet about candidates seeking municipal office. I'd love to tell you what I think, but I've muzzled myself. The reason is because I was completely wrong when I said Terry Houck would win the primary. Then I was completely wrong when I said he'd win the general.  So I'm actually afraid to say what I think for fear I might jinx my picks.

This should not stop you. Feel free to post a comment supporting your favorite candidate. It would help if you give readers a reason to support your choice. 

Outstanding County Residents Honored by NorCo Council and Exec

Last week, Northampton County Council and Executive Lamont McClure honored a group of outstanding residents. Frankly, I consider myself very outstanding and tell people that all the time. So I don't know how I was overlooked. Frank Pintabone gets an award just because he hands out a shitload of turkeys every Thanksgiving? Actually that's pretty amazing and he does it throughout the Lehigh Valley. It is nice to see his generosity recognized. 

Outstanding Municipality Employees

Cathy Hartranft - Borough of Hellertown

Jennifer Smethers - Lower Mount Bethel Township

Keith Knecht - Borough of Nazareth

Kyle Krajnak - Northampton Borough Municipal Water Authority

Roger Scheirer - Borough of North Catasauqua

Thomas Adams - Palmer Township

Scott Kistler - Palmer Township

Kim Mutarelli - Upper Nazareth Township

Outstanding Youth

Ervin Holton

Daniela Roanne Williams

Jenna Kaitlynn Thomas

Sophie Sha-Yan Werkheiser


Outstanding Volunteers

Stephen Wilson

Todd Sullivan

Karen Jani

John Pearce

Jenny McGuiness Swanker

Dale Traupman

Joe Tramontana

Anne Kelly

Michael Bennett

Outstanding Veteran

Daniel Chiavaroli

Conrad Abelovsky

John V. Mitzak

Richard J. Kondash


Good Samaritan

Frank Pintabone

Westley Morris

Carolyn Roman

Roger Kozemchak

Ginger Constantin


Outstanding Emergency Personnel

Robert P. Goffredo, Jr.

Chief James Krome

Michael Snyder


Outstanding Business

Fiamma Italian Grill

Johnsonville Farm & Garden

Franklin Hill Vineyards

Woodstone Country Club