MERCER — The polls had been open for less than three hours when the Mercer County Election and Voter Registration Bureau had to address a problem that had nothing to do with the new voting system unveiled Tuesday.
Election and Voter Registration Director Jeff Greenburg learned that someone — an “idiot,” as he called the culprit — posted to Facebook that the election had been postponed because of rain.
“It seems that the individual thought it was funny, but this isn’t something to joke about,” Greenburg said.
Greenburg, through Mercer County’s Twitter feed — in addition to being elections director, he’s also the county’s public information officer — countered the fake Facebook news report and informed the public that elections are more like football than baseball. The game goes on, rain or shine.
He also had the post removed, but not before preserving it as a screenshot as evidence for submission to the office of District Attorney Peter Acker for possible prosecution. Greenburg also sent a copy of the screenshot to the Department of State, which oversees elections in Pennsylvania.
Greenburg did not identify the person who posted the hoax, but said it was on the Facebook feed of someone who had a relative on the ballot for Tuesday’s election, which baffled him.
“Why would they want to depress turnout?” he said.
Tuesday marked the rollout of Mercer County’s new voting system, with a DS200 optical scan counting machine and a ExpressVote ballot marking device at each of the county’s 90 precincts.
And the premiere did not exactly go off flawlessly.
Problems with scanning absentee ballots delayed reporting of results in the county. Greenburg said the DS200 in several districts were unable to read some folded absentee ballots.
The county election office ordered poll workers to separate absentee ballots that couldn’t be counted from the ones that were tallied on election night, with all of the absentee votes to be counted Friday in the first canvass, Greenburg said.
“The ballot issues also caused delays in closing the polls, which resulted in delayed reporting of results,” he said.
Initial voter turnout was 33.84 percent, about what Greenburg had expected, and in line with previous elections in 2015, 2011 and 2007 with county commissioners on the county ballot.
Greenburg said scanners at precincts in Greenville and Sharpsville were not counting votes and had to be replaced with spare devices from the county’s backup supply. When the county purchased devices in April for the new election system, it bought 100 of both the scanners and ballot counters for the 90 precincts, leaving 10 extra for an emergency.
Greenburg said the malfunctions caused minimal disruptions to the vote, but the county will consult with ES&S, the devices’ Omaha, Neb.-based manufacturer.
“We believe that it’s an issue the vendor needs to address,” he said.
Two other mishaps forced election workers and poll staffers in the Shenango Valley to scramble but did not affect voting.
When poll workers arrived at Stey-Nevant Library, the polling location for Farrell’s 2-2 District, they found the doors were still locked. However, Greenburg said the doors were unlocked before the polls opened.
In Shenango Township, ballots intended for the East District at Church of the Good Shepherd in West Middlesex went to the West District and Presbyterian Church of West Middlesex, and vice versa.
But Greenburg said the polling sites, which are only a few blocks apart in West Middlesex borough, got their proper ballots before polls opened.