David J. Freed, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, announced on Thursday afternoon that his office had opened an inquiry into the disposal of nine military mail-in ballots in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.
A press release announced that Freed’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Scranton Resident Office began an “inquiry” on Monday “into reports of potential issues with a small number of mail-in ballots at the Luzerne County Board of Elections.” The U.S. Attorney’s office became involved “at the request of Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis.”
Freed’s office initially claimed that all nine discarded ballots were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump, but then released a revised statement at 3:47 p.m. stating, “Of the nine ballots that were discarded and then recovered, seven were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump. Two of the discarded ballots had been resealed inside their appropriate envelopes by Luzerne elections staff prior to recovery by the FBI and the contents of those 2 ballots are unknown.” The revised statement also noted, “Some of the ballots can be attributed to specific voters and some cannot.” The Pennsylvania State Police is also assisting in the investigation.
When Military Times contacted Freed’s office for clarification on statements in the release, public affairs officer Dawn Clark confirmed that the discarded ballots were for the Nov. 3 general election and that they were improperly opened by county staff.
The Times Leader, a local newspaper covering the Luzerne County area, reported that county Election Director Shelby Watchilla found the discarded ballots last week and immediately reported the discovery to the county administration. County officials then referred the finding to Salavantis, the district attorney, who contacted state and federal investigators.
Luzerne County elections officials were unavailable for comment on Thursday evening.
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.