Lehigh Co. DA, Pa. Secretary of State to discuss plan to monitor ballot drop boxes

DA Jim Martin says he’s sticking with plan to have county detectives monitor drop-off boxes to make sure voters are following the law

By: - May 9, 2022 11:15 am

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Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin said Friday he will continue to have county detectives physically monitor drop-off boxes for mail-in ballots but has agreed to talk on Monday with acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman on the matter.

On Thursday, Chapman sent a letter to Martin asking him to stop having county detectives monitor the county’s five drop-off boxes in person. In Pennsylvania, the secretary of state serves as the state’s chief election official.

“I share your interest in ensuring that our state and federal election laws are followed and enforced, including laws covering the delivery of mail-in or absentee ballots, Chapman wrote. “That said, I write to inquire about your plans out of concern that they may have the effect of intimidating eligible voters and deterring their authorized agents from legally casting votes.”

Chapman urged Martin to “shift his focus from surveilling ballot drop boxes to voter education.”

She also said her office is available to meet with Martin to discuss the matter.

When asked about the letter, Martin responded in an email to Armchair Lehigh Valley, saying would be talking to Chapman on Monday but would not be pulling his detectives from on-site monitoring.

Since the drop-off boxes became available on May 2, Martin said he has not found any instances of people dropping off more than one ballot. He would not comment on whether he has received complaints about detectives being posted at drop-off boxes.

Chapman’s letter was sent Thursday, the same day that a group of 21 organizations, led by the ACLU, sent a letter to Martin, saying that the presence of detectives at drop boxes “appears to cross the line into unlawful harassment and intimidation of voters.”

Both letters follow Martin’s April 26 announcement that county detectives would be monitoring the county’s drop-off locations either in person or via video surveillance recordings.

Persons caught dropping off more than one ballot could face fines of up to $2,500 and imprisonment for up to two years or both, Martin said in the release.

ACLU, disability advocates call on Lehigh Co. DA to halt drop box monitoring plan

In her letter, Chapman addressed two issues that were also raised in the ACLU letter. Chapman noted to Martin that legally a person may drop off the ballot of a voter who has a disability as defined by the ADA.

To do so, both parties must fill out and sign a form. Martin’s April 26 press release did not mention the option for persons with disabilities.

Chapman said she had broader concerns about county detectives physically monitoring the county’s five drop off locations.

“I believe that it is important for me to request that you do not station law enforcement outside of ballot drop boxes in Lehigh County,” Chapman wrote.

Lehigh County controller: Plan to monitor ballot drop-off boxes would ‘intimidate voters’

On Thursday, in response to the ACLU letter, Martin said he has the authority to uphold the election law and pointed out that an investigation by his office showed that there were at least 288 cases last fall involving people placing more than one ballot in a drop box.

“People ought to follow the law,” he said.

Martin also said his detectives will be unobtrusive and would not approach anyone unless they observe the person dropping off more than one ballot. He described the monitoring of both videos and physical drop-boxes taking place periodically.

Correspondent Katherine Reinhard covers Allentown and the Lehigh Valley for the Capital-Star. She wrote this piece for Armchair Lehigh Valley, a politics newsletter, where it first appeared

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Katherine Reinhard
Katherine Reinhard

Katherine Reinhard, a veteran journalist, is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Lehigh Valley Correspondent and a co-editor of Armchair Lehigh Valley, a Substack newsletter focused on politics in the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton region.