An official in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania explained Friday how nine military ballots ended up in a dumpster, a situation that sparked a Trump-world freakout and widely-criticized press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In a press release, Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri said that a temporary seasonal contractor had “incorrectly discarded” the Uniformed Military and Overseas Voters Act (UMOVA) ballots into the trash. After Luzerne County Elections Director Shelby Watchilla discovered the ballots, she ran it up her chain of command. The contractor, hired to help sort the mail, was “removed from service” and asked not to return.
The FBI, Luzerne County District Attorney’s office and Pennsylvania state police secured and sorted through three days worth of garbage, the duration that the contractor had been on site. According to the release, the FBI currently has the discarded ballots, though the county will attempt to contact the voters so their votes can be processed.
UMOVA ballots are required to be sent out at least 45 days before the election, and Luzerne County sent theirs out on Aug. 25. That special allowance for military voters explains how the ballots could have been mailed out and returned while many counties in Pennsylvania have yet to mail out their ballots to the general public.
The press release emphasizes that the Luzerne County employees did not know for which candidate the mishandled ballots were cast until the U.S. Attorney’s Office disclosed it in a bizarre press release on Thursday.
“While the actions of this individual has cast a concern, the above statement shows that the system of checks and balances set forth in Pennsylvania elections works,” the county press release said. “An error was made, a public servant discovered it and reported it to law enforcement at the local, State and Federal level who took over to ensure the integrity of the system in place.”
The release gives a significantly more detailed picture of events that the public information released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, whose revelation that most of the ballots were cast for President Donald Trump led to a MAGA meltdown. Experts pilloried the statement for its release of selective information as the investigation is still ongoing.
In a subsequent letter, U.S. Attorney David Freed referenced mistaken improper opening of ballots, but still called the situation “troubling,” casting a sinister pall over what county officials seem to believe was a mistake.
A Friday ABC News report revealed that Attorney General Bill Barr was responsible for getting the situation on Trump’s radar, who spoke about it during a radio interview. Hours later, the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s first press release was published.
Read the press release here: