Republican Patrick Castellani has resigned from the Luzerne County Elections Committee, citing concerns about mail-in voting and ballot boxes.
The council had named Castellani, of Butler Township, to one of two Republican council seats in October. The volunteer citizen council oversees elections, makes decisions on marked ballots and write-in votes, and certifies election results.
According to Castellani’s resignation letter, which was submitted on Saturday and takes effect immediately, he said he had “taken the time to reflect on the issues and the steps taken” during the last board meeting on 23 March.
“I cannot, in good conscience, certify an election that has inherent process flaws related to the use of PO and drop boxes,” Castellani wrote.
Most of the four-hour meeting on March 23 focused on postal ballot boxes.
With voting along party lines, all three council Democrats – Denise Williams, Audrey Serniak and Danny Schramm – have allowed drop boxes inside five buildings in the May 17 primary election and in the future. Castellani and fellow Republican Alyssa Fusaro voted against drop boxes.
Williams, the board chair, said Monday that Castellani’s departure was unexpected.
“I was very surprised that the reason for Mr. Castellani’s resignation was that he would not be able to certify another election because of his position against ballots and ballot boxes,” Williams said. “Mr. Castellani voted to certify the 2021 General Elections with no concerns expressed and also recently voted in favor of ballot boxes for the Special Elections.
In the upcoming April 5 special election for the 116th Legislative District, the council voted last month to provide drop boxes at Hazleton Town Hall and the county’s Penn Place building in downtown Wilkes-Barre . The council had decided not to add a third box in the special election, largely due to Castellani’s argument voters would be confused in future regular elections when the extra box was no longer available.
In his resignation letter, Castellani said he was not contesting or challenging a PA Supreme Court ruling that allows drop boxes at the discretion of each county.
However, he maintained that allowing mail-in voting and drop boxes “removes the election vetting process” from those in an election monitoring role.
“By voting in person at a voting site, the process is one person, one voter book signing, one vote, and out the door,” Castellani said.
In-person voting has a “full process” controlled by election rules and vetted by election officials and election judges, meaning results can be confidently certified by the council, he said.
“Certifying thousands of votes that start unchecked outside the control of the electoral office has inherent risks. It is hard to believe that we accept election results on moral integrity over sound processes that would eliminate most electoral challenges,” he wrote.
Castellani said he found it “odd” that the board pushed for good standard operating procedures within the electoral office, but not in the “electoral process.”
“After going through an election cycle and evaluating the process, I find it impossible to certify another election due to the lack of ballot control inherent in the mail and dropbox system,” he wrote. . “In light of the above, I do not wish to waste the election office’s time, or mine, when I know I will not certify another election due to the use of couriers and drop boxes. “
Fusaro, who attended her first meeting as a board member on March 23, cited drop boxes as a major issue that needs to be addressed when she sought the board appointment. She expressed concerns about voters dropping multiple ballots and argued that the county should conduct its own monitoring of drop boxes instead of relying on video recording by drop box hosts.
She said Monday that the county should not offer drop boxes without “enhanced security.”
Electoral board members backing the drop boxes argued that they had been provided in the county since the November 2020 election and were safer than mailboxes because they were inside public buildings and under supervision.
Williams said 5,400 county voters of all political affiliations preferred to use drop boxes in the 2021 general election for reasons including convenience, lack of confidence in the Postal Service, fear that ballots votes do not reach the electoral office in time and signature protection on outer mailing envelopes.
During the May primary, four drop boxes will be in the same locations used during the November 2 general election: Penn Place, the Pittston Memorial Library in Pittston, Hazleton Town Hall and the Service Wright Township Voluntary Fire Brigade in Mountain Top.
The board also added a fifth Back Mountain drop box at Misericordia University pending an agreement with the institution.
A counter box is used at Penn Place and letterbox type boxes will be placed in the other four locations as they are too heavy and bulky to steal.
Officials said the boxes contain visible signs informing voters that they are under surveillance and that they are prohibited from handing over someone else’s ballot unless they are rendering assistance to a absentee disabled or emergency voter. These deliveries to third parties require a declaration signed by both the voter and the person assisting him.
Castellani, who was unanimously named vice chairman of the board at the March 23 meeting, was nominated to serve until 2023.
The Board will have 60 days to fill the seat after officially declaring the seat vacant.
Only two Republicans have submitted nominations and conducted public interviews required to be considered for nomination at this time: Candice Chilek and Richard Nardone.
Nardone previously served on the board, but a majority of the board recently opted to appoint Fusaro instead.
When interviewed a year ago, Chilek, from West Pittston, said she was a homemaker who had also worked in administrative support, as a private school teacher and as a landlord/ restaurant operator.
Nardone, from Slocum Township, is a consultancy business operator and also a private pilot involved in animal rescue missions.
When Fusaro raised the issue of drop boxes before the council’s recent appointment, Nardone said he thought drop boxes were more secure than mailboxes in the regular postal system because the county requires registration by security camera of its drop boxes and regulated retrieval of contents by the county sheriff. deputies or employees of electoral offices. Counties are allowed to provide drop boxes for the convenience of voters under state law, he had said, noting that the law could change.
In a related matter, the county’s district attorney’s office is completing its investigation into a drop box complaint stemming from the November 2021 general election.
Officials had said the incident involved a nursing home representative dropping off or attempting to drop off multiple mail-in ballots for the general election without producing forms from each voter authorizing the delivery on their behalf.
The county election office also said it is notifying nursing and personal care homes and assisted living facilities of the state’s ban on casting someone else’s mail-in ballot without official authorization form.