Western Pa. official claims postal service lost mail-in ballots

(Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

(*This story was updated at 6:40 p.m. on 10/28/20 to include additional information)

A local elections official in a county beset by mail-in voting woes claimed Wednesday that the U.S. Postal Service lost an unknown number of mail-in ballots, a claim that an agency spokesperson said they were unaware of.

Aaron Sheasley, election director in Butler County, revealed the issue at a county commissioners meeting Wednesday, according to the Butler Eagle newspaper. The ballots were lost on their way to voters, according to Sheasely.

Sheasley added that he was informed of the ballot mistake “within the last 24 hours by postal officials at the federal level that an active investigation is ongoing regarding the issue,” according to the Butler Eagle.

Tad Kelley, a postal service spokesperson in Pittsburgh, told the Capital-Star that the service “is unaware of any significant delays or issues and is in regular contact with the Board of Election as we work to locate and deliver ballots as they are presented to us.”

Attempts to contact Sheasley and the county election board were unsuccessful. A spokesperson for the Butler County Commissioners did not reply to a request for comment. 

The issue also wasn’t just empty ballots not arriving. Carole McMahon, a 73 year old Cranberry resident, told the Capital-Star that she and her fiance received their ballots in the second week of October and sent them back immediately.

But while her partner received a notice that his ballot was received, McMahon hasn’t heard a word from the county about her ballot.

“As far as I know, it has never been received. And that concerns me,” she said.

Local media has already reported problems with mail-in ballots in Butler County, just north of Pittsburgh. Voters said they received notice that their ballot was in the mail, but hadn’t received it more than a week later.

According to KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, County Commissioner Leslie Osche blamed a state-level data entry error for ballot delays, and “assured county voters that everything is under control and the ballots are coming.”

As of Wednesday, Butler County voters had returned just 24 percent of almost 40,000 requested mail-in ballots, according to the U.S. Elections Project by the University of Florida. The next lowest return rate was 49.6 percent in Fayette County.

In a statement, Ellen Lyon, a spokesperson for the Department of State, said the department was reaching out to Butler County and the USPS to investigate the issue.

“Butler County voters who have not yet received ballots should go to the county Bureau of Elections to receive and cast their replacement ballot or they can go to their polling place on Election Day and vote a provisional ballot,” Lyon said.

Don Megahan, a 34-year old Butler County resident, casted a replacement ballot. Megahan, the partner of Democratic state House candidate Dan Smith, requested a mail-in ballot. According to the state’s ballot tracker, it was mailed out September 10.

Almost seven weeks later, he didn’t have a ballot, even after Smith’s arrived. So, Megahan called the county Wednesday and filled out the provisional ballot.

He isn’t sure his was lost in the mail, but Megahan knew he needed to vote sooner rather than later.

“Maybe mine was one of them, maybe it will arrive tomorrow, who knows,” Megahan told the Capital-Star. “But I wasn’t taking a chance.”