Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Dave McCormick (left) and Mehmet Oz are two of the Republicans running in 2022 for an open U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania. (AP) Dave McCormick (left) and Mehmet Oz are two of the Republicans running in 2022 for an open U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania. (AP)

Dave McCormick (left) and Mehmet Oz are two of the Republicans running in 2022 for an open U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman May 18, 2022

Mail ballot problem in Pennsylvania county was a printing error, not fraud

If Your Time is short

  • Pennsylvania law allows election officials to start processing mail ballots at 7 a.m. on Election Day. In Lancaster County, when officials opened up the ballots, they found some would not go through the scanner.
  • The county said the vendor printed ballots with a wrong identification code.
  • The Department of State said 22,000 ballots were affected and will need to be copied by hand and then scanned.

As the results of the Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary remained up in the air a day after the election, critics of voting by mail distorted a problem with mail ballots in Lancaster County.

On election night May 17, partially counted returns were too close to determine if Mehmet Oz or Dave McCormick would emerge as the winner. The race may land within the half-percent margin to require a recount. 

A problem in Lancaster emerged after 7 a.m. on Election Day when officials opened up mail ballots and found that a significant number printed by the vendor, NPC, would not scan because they had the wrong identification code. The Pennsylvania Department of State said about 22,000 ballots were affected; the county will duplicate ballots by hand and scan them over the next few days. 

On Twitter, some people suggested that it was a sign of voter fraud or something "suspicious." 

"And of course there are mail in ballot discrepancies in Lancaster County, PA," tweeted John Cardillo. "We’re a third world country. Voter fraud is becoming the accepted norm."

Another person tweeted of the Lancaster ballots: "I see a major opportunity for voter fraud."

But county and commonwealth officials told us there was no evidence of fraud.

What led to the problem

The day after the election, County Commissioner John Trescot told PolitiFact that there was "no sign of fraud related to this printing error."

Lancaster County Detective Andrew Morgan, who works for the district attorney, told us that detectives had not received any reports of fraud.

Lancaster officials said the error occurred after the county had approved the vendor’s test ballots, which had the correct identification code. The vendor, NPC, did not respond to PolitiFact. 

Ellen Lyon, a Pennsylvania Department of State spokesperson, also said there is no indication the printing error was a result of fraud or malicious intent. 

Human error in elections happens from time to time, said David Becker, founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. But it’s worth noting that the problem was discovered as a result of checks and balances built into the system. 

"It appears that every single voter who cast a vote on a ballot with the printing error on it will have their votes counted correctly, thanks to procedures in place," Becker said. 

Pennsylvania law doesn’t allow processing mail ballots until Election Day

Thirty-eight states allow officials to process ballots cast by mail before Election Day, but Pennsylvania isn’t one of them. Pennsylvania law says mail ballots can’t be processed until 7 a.m. on Election Day. 

Featured Fact-check

So there was no way to spot the problem earlier.

Election officials from both parties have urged the Pennsylvania General Assembly to allow for earlier processing of mail ballots. 

"If the legislature had acted, this would have been discovered days if not weeks before, and could have been mitigated more effectively, allowing for rapid delivery of accurate results," Becker said.

In 2021, lawmakers passed a bill that included earlier processing of mail ballots, but Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed it, citing other aspects of the bill, including stricter voter ID requirements.

Voting by mail surged in Pennsylvania starting in 2020 as a result of Act 77, the 2019 law that established no-excuse mail voting, a provision pushed by Democrats. Republicans got one of their priorities included, too: elimination of straight-ticket voting. Following Joe Biden’s presidential win in Pennsylvania, some Republicans have sought to undo the law, and the matter is in litigation.

Former President Donald Trump, on his social media platform Truth Social, used the Pennsylvania situation as another opportunity to attack voting by mail: "Our Country should go to paper ballots, with same day voting. Just done in France, zero problems. Get Smart America!!!"

Trump’s repeated statements suggesting widespread fraud have been debunked by fact-checkers, judges and government officials. France completed its presidential election count quickly because that was the only contest on the ballot.

Of all the counties in Pennsylvania, Lancaster and one other reported election issues, the Department of State said. In Berks County, at least two dozen polling places had long lines as a result of problems with new electronic pollbooks. A court order extended voting in Berks County by one extra hour.

The winner of the Senate Republican primary will face Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. The Senate seat is being vacated by Sen. Patrick Toomey, a Republican.

Our ruling

Social media posts extrapolated a problem with mail ballots in Lancaster County as a sign of "voter fraud."

There is no evidence of fraud. The issue had to do with a vendor that printed the mail ballots using a wrong identification code; the ballots would not scan, so they will need to be copied by hand. County officials dismissed notions of vote tampering or other illegal activity.

What happened in Lancaster is a vendor error, and suggestions that it amounts to voter fraud are wrong.

We rate this claim False. 

RELATED: All of our fact-checks about elections

RELATED: Dave McCormick’s Truth-O-Meter

RELATED: Mehmet Oz’s Truth-O-Meter

RELATED: Why France reports election results faster than the US

Our Sources

Lancaster County Board of Elections, Statement, May 17, 2022

Department of state, Acting Secretary Of State Reports Successful Primary Election In Pennsylvania, May 17, 2022

Gov. Tom Wolf, Veto message, June 30, 2021

Lancaster Online, Printing issue means 'two-thirds' of mail-in ballots won't scan: Lancaster County officials [update], May 17, 2022

John Cardillo, Tweet, May 17, 2022

Freedom4All, Tweet, May 17, 2022

Llanier, Tweet, May 17, 2022

NBC Philadelphia, Printing Errors Mar Mailed Ballots in Pennsylvania, Oregon, May 18, 2022

Business Insider, Trump attacks Pennsylvania's vote counting as Dr. Oz's race remains too close to call, May 18, 2022

Pennsylvania law, 25 P.S. § 3154, Effective Nov. 27, 2019

Pennsylvania Department of State, Voting by mail-in or absentee ballot is safe, secure, and easy. Accessed May 17, 2022

Pennsylvania Department of State, Department Of State Election Returns Website To Provide First Look At Primary Election Results, May 16, 2022

Vote Beat, Pennsylvania’s mail ballot rules could slow down election results — again, May 12, 2022

Spotlight PA, Pa. Supreme Court weighs future of state’s popular mail voting law, March 8, 2022

National Conference of State Legislatures, Table 16: When Absentee/Mail Ballot Processing and Counting Can Begin, March 15, 2022

Pennsylvania General Assembly, Act 20, 2020

PolitiFact, ​​Facebook post wrongly says Pennsylvania mail-ballot court ruling means Biden lost, Feb. 3, 2022

Email interview, Lancaster County Commissioner John Trescot, May 18, 2022

Telephone interview, Lancaster County Detective Andrew Morgan, May 18, 2022

Email interview, David Becker, Center for Election Innovation and Research, executive director and founder, May 18, 2022

Telephone interview, Adam Bonin, political law compliance lawyer in Pennsylvania, May 18, 2022

Email interview, Ellen Lyon, a spokesperson with the Department of State, May 18, 2022

 

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Amy Sherman

Mail ballot problem in Pennsylvania county was a printing error, not fraud

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up