How almost 200 Allegheny County midterm voters got the wrong ballots

The error was made after the Pa. Supreme Court ordered the drawing of new boundaries earlier this year.

vote election 16×9
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Sarah Anne Hughes

Allegheny County confirmed that 168 voters who live in the new 17th congressional district were incorrectly given ballots for the 18th on Election Day.

Voter Sean Sims, who lives in South Fayette, reached out to The Incline on Nov. 6 and said he was given a ballot for the 18th congressional district. After voting, Sims did some research and became concerned that he and his wife were given the wrong ballot. When provided with Sims’ address by The Incline, the county said he lived in the 18th.

But on Friday, a county spokesperson reversed course and said 168 voters were incorrectly given ballots for the 18th congressional district.

David Voye, acting manager for Allegheny County’s elections division, said the “error” was made by the office in February, after the Pa. Supreme Court determined the state’s 18 congressional districts had been drawn in an unfairly partisan manner and ordered new boundaries.

The ruling included verbal descriptions of the new districts. Some municipalities are completely contained in the same congressional district, but that wasn’t the case for South Fayette, where Sims lives. Whether a person in his area votes in the 17th or 18th district could depend on their census tract (one of the subdivisions used to group voters) or even which block they live on.

“After Mr. Sims called, the information was reviewed with Elections and GIS and a determination made that the 168 voters that reside on Old Oakdale Road should have been assigned to the 17th Congressional District,” Voye said. “Affected voters will get new voter ID cards, as well as a letter explaining the issue and subsequent correction.”

Voye added that the division is “currently reviewing all other streets in the split districts to verify their placement.”

All 168 votes were counted, according to Voye. Those ballots could not have altered the outcome of the 17th congressional district race, which Rep. Conor Lamb won by more than 40,000 votes. In the 18th district, Rep. Mike Doyle was unopposed.

30 calls, no answer

In an email, Sims described a frustrating process of making at least 30 calls on Election Day to raise the issue only to be told it would be dealt with “after the election.”

“I tried to contact the Allegheny County Elections Division but their phone line was busy (despite multiple calls in quick succession),” he said. “I called the State at 1-877-VOTESPA and spoke to a volunteer there. She recommended I keep trying to reach Allegheny County and indicated she would try to reach them through a different number on my behalf. I also took to social media to try to get some attention to the issue.”

In the weeks after Nov. 6, Sims continued to contact Allegheny County’s elections division until, almost a month after the election, he was able to speak to someone who could confirm his suspicions.

“I am also confident that if I did not speak up this error would have continued to be in effect, possibly influencing the outcome of future elections,” Sims said.

Sims has filed a complaint with Pa. Department of State, which said a similar issue affecting roughly 93 voters was reported in Chester County. A DOS spokesperson said Chester County reported its issue to the department “as soon as they became aware of it.”