The processing of mail-in and absentee ballots during elections is about to get easier in Lebanon County. 

The Lebanon County Commissioners on Thursday approved the purchase of an $180,000 mail sorting system to expedite the process. The purchase price does not include between $20,000 and $22,000 in annual software license and equipment maintenance fees for years two through five of the county’s five-year agreement with Runbeck Election Services of Phoenix, Arizona.

The purchase and ongoing fees will be paid through a portion of the $466,606 state grant the county accepted as part of a funding bill signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf earlier this year.

Sean Drasher, director of elections, said the large piece of equipment that processes inbound mail will, in theory, eliminate human errors in data input and the scanning of the envelopes.

“It matches up the inbound mail we get to the voter record, including signature matching – which is pretty amazing,” said Drasher. “It then sorts it by either precinct or tray – it’s very flexible in how we organize it (and) set things up. It will handle all inbound mail with the big benefit that it will generate a file that updates the state database.”

Chairman Robert Phillips expressed a concern with the machine’s signature matching capabilities, adding that a quagmire will be created since people’s signatures tend to change over time. He asked what happens if the machinery can’t read a signature. 

Drasher called the machine’s capabilities amazing, noting that if a signature does not match, the envelope is kicked to a separate tray. If that happens, then election officials will have to decide how to handle that issue. 

In other election news, Drasher also presented to the commissioners the ballot for the November election, which they unanimously approved.

Drasher noted that mail-in and absentee ballots should be mailed Monday to those individuals who have already requested them. Drasher said he expects an influx in ballot requests over the next two weeks before they subside in the days leading up to the election on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

The commissioners also approved a number of provider contract amendments for the county’s mental health/intellectual disabilities/early intervention (MH/ID/EI) office, and, in a separate action, approved three hearing officer contracts for the county’s domestic relations department. 

Holly Leahy, administrator of the MH/ID/EI office, presented four provider contract amendments totaling $4,347 for fiscal year 2021-22 and 31 amendments for fiscal year 2022-23 in the amount of $77,908 to the commissioners. She added that none of the amendments require additional county funding to cover these expenses, noting that the 31 provider contract amendments were due to an increase in early intervention services. 

The commissioners approved to provide professional services contracts to three hearing officers who were approved to their respective positions by President Judge John Tylwack. The three individuals to receive the contracts for a three-year period beginning Oct. 1, 2022, through Sept. 30, 2025, are Kristen Lee (Jones), Rosamond Presby, and Ellen Wargo.

In other county business, the commissioners:   

  • Granted permission for Leahy and county administrator Jamie Wolgemuth to sign contract agreements, amendments, revisions and other incidental documents related to contracts with Mh/ID/EI program providers on behalf of the county commissioners.
  • Agreed to approve the purchase of Generated Low Output Voltage Emitter (G.L.O.V.E.) safety gloves by the county correctional facility. The county will purchase three sets of gloves, which are used to gain compliance with unruly inmates, at a cost of $1,495 per pair.
  • Named Courtney Franklin, a city resident who is employed as a respiratory therapist, to a three-year term to the Lebanon County Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse Advisory Council. The appointment, which is in the Optional category, runs through Feb. 19, 2025.
  • Voted to appoint Judy Hummel of Myerstown and Marilyn Vizcaino of Lebanon to the Commission for Women roster and accepted the resignation of Mary Banda from the commission due to expanded job duties with her employer. 
  • Approved a liquid fuels tax fund request for 2022 by North Annville Township in the amount of $2,381 for line painting on township roads. The line painting was estimated to cost the township $16,100.
  • Accepted two hotel tax grant fund applications for Penn State Extension in the among of $10,000 for its Crops Day program on Feb. 16, 2023, and $1,000 for Lebanon Valley Bike Coalition’s Bikes-N-Bites event at Coleman Park on Oct. 29, 2022.
  • Provided full real estate tax exemptions to two fully disabled veterans. 
  • Approved the minutes of their Sept. 15 meeting, the treasurer’s report and numerous personnel transactions as presented by the human resources department. 
  • Announced that they would be in executive session on Friday, Oct. 7 to discuss union negotiations.
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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; and Lancaster...