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Lehigh Co. judge of elections charged in election tampering

A judge of elections in Lehigh County has been charged by the county district attorney’s office with what amounts to tampering with election ballots because she admitted “coloring in” or darkening ballots so that they can be properly read by the scanners used in the election.

But District Attorney James Martin, in a news release detailing the investigation conducted by his office, said “It cannot be determined or proven beyond a reasonable doubt, that Judge of Elections Everett Bickford, also known as Erika Bickford, altered or changed a vote to favor one of the candidates.”

Bickford, the judge of elections in Allentown’s Third Ward, has been charged under the Pennsylvania Election Code with insertion and alteration of entries in documents and prying into ballots. The offenses are ungraded misdemeanors.

Martin said the charges relate to the June 2 Primary Election, specifically involving the Democratic race for the 22nd Legislative District nomination between incumbent Peter Schweyer and challenger Enid Santiago.

As per the certified vote totals, Schweyer won the nomination by a margin of 2,197 to 2,142. In the Third Ward in question, Santiago won by a tally of 95-52.

However, despite the certification of the votes, Santiago notified the Lehigh County Board of Elections of alleged irregularities at the voting location of the 3rd Ward which she contended were violations of the Election Code of Pennsylvania.

Martin said the Board of Elections, comprised of Phillips Armstrong, Jane Ervin and Doris Glaessman, held a public hearing on Santiago’s complaint, and ruled Bickford’s actions to be “suspicious” and merited referral to the DA’s office.

The DA said after reading the 261-page transcript of the hearing, he assigned the case to detectives Michael J. Millan and Richard Heffelfinger of his office, who interviewed Timothy A. Benyo, the county’s director of elections; Santiago and Bickford.

Martin said Santiago told investigators while inside the poll, she noticed Bickford had two ballots in her hand, one apparently voted ballot and one blank ballot. Santiago alleges she saw Bickford writing on a blank ballot. She said Benyo was present at the time told Bickford she had to stop and that her actions were not permissible.

Benyo told authorities while he was at the poll, he questioned Bickford about pens and removed them from a table.

Benyo said he also noticed Bickford had election ballots and a pen in her hand, saying it appeared the judge of elections was marking the ballots.

Martin said Bickford, when questioned, told investigators she was “darkening the bubbles” because the machine couldn’t read them.

Benyo, however, stated he told Bickford to stop, that she can’t do that and asked Bickford where the voter was. Bickford said the voter had left, or that she didn’t know.

Martin said the record shows in Bickford’s testimony before the board of elections that she assisted approximately 10 voters by darkening the bubbles on their ballots. She also indicated that she “trimmed” ballots so that the machine would accept them.

In the interview with the two detectives, Bickford said she did not alter any ballots. However, when asked how many ballots she thought she handled in trimming the jagged edge so that it would be accepted by the scanning machine, “she indicated 10 or 20,” Martin said.

With regard to darkening of the bubbles on ballots, Bickford said all she did was darken the dots that the voter chose. She said she did not alter any ballots and did not change the voter’s choice. When asked how many ballots she thought she darkened, Bickford said “not many, about 30.”

Martin said the detectives examined all of the ballots from the 3rd Ward and found no evidence of tampering on the ballot, no erasure marks, whiteout, etc. Further, there were no indications of a double vote in any of the races listed on the ballot and there were no “spoiled” ballots in the 3rd Ward, he said.