Bucks County, Pa. – Last week, it came to light that voters in southeastern Pennsylvania’s 8th district were receiving notices warning that their right to vote could be in jeopardy if they did not return an absentee ballot to the “Pennsylvania Voter Assistance Office,” a fictitious agency headquartered at a post office box. The letters, shown below, were underwritten by the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee.
“By failing to return the enclosed [absentee ballot],” warned the notice, “you may be placing your ability to participate in this year’s general election at risk.” The mailer contained a postage-paid envelope instructing voters to return their ballots to a post office box controlled by the Democratic Party.
That post office box, Battle ‘10 has learned, was controlled at least in part by Tim Persico, the campaign manager for Rep. Patrick Murphy. Persico was apparently listed as one of two authorized to access the post office box listed in the mailers.
At issue is whether Rep. Patrick Murphy was directly involved with the absentee ballot scheme, which is being investigated by the local district attorney’s office and has so far resulted in the rejection of at least 600 absentee ballots for “defects.”
The number of reject ballots, which is “significantly higher” than in previous years, has been reportedly fueled by errors including mismatching signatures and incorrect birth dates, indicators of potential fraud.
This comes on the heels of the county Board of Elections recording a unusual spike in Democratic absentee ballot application last week. Within a six day period from Oct. 14 to 19, Democrat absentee ballot applications to the county increased by 67 percent as compared to Republican applications, a spike that occurred nowhere else in the state.
Applications had been running essentially even between the parties up to that point. On Oct. 14, both parties’ ballot applications tallied roughly 3,000 each, but by Oct. 19, Democrats recorded 5,082 applications to Republicans’ 3,678.
Patricia Poprik, vice chairman of the local Republican Party, has been monitoring the return of applications and spoke with Battle ‘10 about the controversy. Poprik spoke of witnessing identical, pre-labelled envelopes returned with applications, some dated months prior, and voiced her fear about the lack of transparency behind the fictitious Democrat “Voter Assistance Office.”
“We know some were held, and some were signed in August,” Poprik told Battle ‘10. “The biggest question is: whether they [the applications, both Democrat and Republican] were all sent back to the county.”
“Why do the [Democrats] pre-screen them?” asked Poprik. “If they really wanted to help the voter, why don’t they just put the return address of the courthouse [and] let the ballot go there? Why do they have to get in the middle and check it out?”
That the letters instruct applications be returned to the Democratic Party via the Murphy-campaign manager controlled post office box, rather than directly to the county Board of Elections office, is a core aspect of the ongoing controversy.
The 8th congressional district is viewed as a bellwether race. Patrick Murphy is seen as a rising star in his party, and as a recent appointee to the powerful appropriations committee, his loss would be a significant blow for Democrats.
And in a congressional district that Murphy won by only 1,518 votes in 2006 — less than two percent of the vote out of nearly 300,000 cast — this controversy is one his campaign call ill afford even as his challenger, Mike Fitzpatrick, is running in a dead heat or slightly ahead, depending on the polls.
News of an unusual influx of thousands of Democrat ballot requests, coming on the heels of revelations about the fictitious ”Voter Assistance Office,” along with today’s latest finding that Patrick Murphy’s campaign manager was apparently directly involved, creates a political situation at best uncomfortable and at worst explosive for the embattled incumbent.
Battle ‘10 will follow this story as it develops.