A Centre County precinct reported record voter turnout. Those numbers were wrong, officials say

Centre County saw a higher voter turnout in Tuesday’s municipal election compared to previous years, but one precinct’s unofficial results contained incorrect data — a percentage twice as high as what it should have been.

Precinct 47, Ferguson North 1, reported a voter turnout of 81.43%, but Judge of Elections Alan Daum said that number should reflect about 40%. The unofficial results show a total of 1,653 registered voters who voted at Precinct 47 and 1,346 ballots that were cast.

“The unofficial result is incorrect,” Daum said. “It’s multiplied by two for some reason.”

Unsure of what caused the mistake, Daum said he looked at the unofficial results Wednesday and notified the Office of Elections and Voter Registration Thursday afternoon.

“We are aware of it,” said Director of Elections and Voter Registration Joyce McKinley. “The official count starts tomorrow, and we compare and check the votes — the number that’s on (the ballot) with the books that they have returned of everybody who voted.”

Thursday morning, McKinley said Election Day went “very smooth” overall. While mistakes and glitches aren’t uncommon during elections, McKinley said, to her knowledge, an error like this hasn’t happened in Centre County.

“We’re aware of it, so we’ll take a close look at that (precinct),” she said.

Three battles for seats on the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors ended in a Democratic sweep with incumbent Laura Dinnini, challengers Prasenjit Mitra and Patty Stephens.

In Precinct 47, Ferguson Township voters were asked to choose a candidate for Ward 2 supervisor. Mitra won that race with 1,522 votes to Republican Janet Whitaker’s 1,069 votes, according to unofficial results. In Precinct 47, the erroneous unofficial results showed Mitra beating Whitaker by 194 votes.

Dinnini and Stephens did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but Mitra said he doesn’t think the error will impact the official results.

“If you look at the results, I won the rest of the three precincts by 94, 185 and 24 votes, respectively,” Mitra wrote in an email. “So, a total lead of 303 votes in the other three precincts. So, I can afford to lose this precinct by 302 votes and still come out ahead ... If you look at the results here, every number is an even number. So, it is quite clear that things were double counted. It is near impossible for all voting totals for all candidates in all races on the ballot to be even numbers.”

Tuesday’s election saw the reelection of Commissioners Michael Pipe, Mark Higgins and Steve Dershem. There were also a number of row offices on ballots countywide, some of which had close margins. For Recorder of Deeds, Republican Joseph Davidson beat Democrat Georgi Bennett by 679 votes, according to unofficial results.

The Board of Elections will begin the official count of votes Friday, but McKinley said its members would have noticed the Precinct 47 error eventually.

County Controller and Chair of the Election Board Chuck Witmer did not respond to a request for comment.

“Everything is unofficial now,” McKinley said. “That’s why it’s unofficial until we go through this process, and the board will take action to certify.”

The reported percentage of registered voters who turned out Tuesday in Centre County ⁠— 30.89% ⁠— was the highest for a municipal election in at least a decade. The lowest turnout for a general election over a similar time frame was about 37% in 2014.

Precinct 47 reported a voter turnout of 35.19% in the May primary election and a 73.44% turnout in the 2016 general election.

Earlier this year, Centre County approved the $1.2 million purchase of voting machines ⁠— following a state mandate that requires counties to purchase new machines by the 2020 election.

After testing the machines in May, McKinley said Tuesday’s election went “very well” overall but said two machines needed to be replaced throughout the day due to technology issues. The glitches were “nothing out of the ordinary,” she said.

Marley Parish reports on local government for the Centre Daily Times. She grew up in Slippery Rock and graduated from Allegheny College.