Allentown judge of elections resigns
By SARIT LASCHINSKY
Special to The Press
An Allentown judge of elections facing charges related to the June 2 Primary Election has resigned from her position.
In an Oct. 29 email to The Press, Lehigh County Chief Clerk of Elections Tim Benyo said Everett “Erika” Bickford sent her resignation as judge of elections for Allentown’s 3rd Ward to the Election Board on Oct. 26.
Bickford’s letter specified her resignation, effective immediately, was at the request of Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin.
Martin said in an Oct. 5 news release that Bickford had been charged under the Pennsylvania Election Code with “Insertion and Alteration of entries in documents, etc.” and prying into ballots.
Both offenses are ungraded misdemeanors.
Election board members Phillips Armstrong, Doris Glaessmann and Jane Erving voted July 29 to have Martin and Attorney General Josh Shapiro investigate Bickford after allegations of election fraud were made by Democratic Party candidate Enid Santiago for the 22nd Legislative District race.
According to Martin, the board did not specify which of Bickford’s actions were found to be “suspicious.”
Martin wrote that while the primary vote was certified June 22 and no challenges or petitions for recounts were filed with the Court of Common Pleas, Santiago had notified the Board of Elections of alleged irregularities “which she contended were violations of the Election Code of Pennsylvania.”
Santiago, who narrowly missed unseating incumbent State Rep. Peter Schweyer, accused Bickford - an acknowledged support of Schweyer - of being in possession of a voted ballot and filling out a second blank ballot at the July hearing, among other allegations of wrongdoing during the election.
Only the “suspicious” actions of Bickford were forwarded to Martin for review.
Benyo testified he had also seen Bickford in possession of election ballots with a pen in hand and was told by Bickford that she was “darkening the bubbles” because the machine could not read them, according to Martin’s release.
“Benyo stated that he told Bickford to stop, that she can’t do that,” Martin stated. ”Benyo asked Bickford where the voter was, and Bickford said that the voter had left, or that she didn’t know.“
Bickford testified in July before the Election Board that she had trimmed the jagged tear lines off the bottom of between 10-20 ballots so the voting machine could properly scan them, and also admitted to darkening circles on “maybe 10” ballots.
Martin stated that Bickford told detectives she altered no ballots by changing the voter’s choice and “estimated she darkened voter’s bubbles ‘around 30 times,’” and was thus charged accordingly.
An examination of all ballots from the 3rd Ward by detectives found no evidence of erasure marks, whiteout or any ballot tampering, no indications of double-voting in any of the races, and Martin said there were no spoiled ballots in the 3rd Ward.
Santiago lost the primary election to Schweyer by 55 votes, or 1.26 percentage points, but received more votes in the 3rd Ward with 95, compared to Schweyer’s 52.
Benyo told The Press that Bickford’s replacement as a judge of elections in Allentown would be filled “in accordance with the Election Code” for the Nov. 3 General Election.
According to Section 405 of the Election Code, vacancies in the Election Board, including judges of election, for reasons such as resignation, removal, disqualification or death will be filled through the appointment of a qualified individual by the county Court of Common Pleas, if the vacancy occurs five days or more before any primary or election.
When asked if any changes have been made to Election Board or office procedures regarding ballot handling in light of Martin’s charges, Benyo said there were “no changes, just reminders during training that the voter should place their ballot into the scanner, not a poll worker.”
Additionally, regarding an independent audit of Allentown’s 1st and 3rd Wards ordered by the Election Board at an Aug. 21 meeting to address discrepancies in the number of cast ballots and reported voters, Benyo said the Election Office is still awaiting the auditor’s report.
Bickford voluntarily surrendered to detectives Oct. 5, and was arraigned and released on her own recognizance, according to Martin.
She waived her preliminary hearing Oct. 28 before Magisterial District Judge David M. Howells Jr., according to court dockets, and her formal arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 5, 2021, before Lehigh County Judge Anna-Kristi Marks.
She faces up to $1,500 in fines and/or between one month and three years in prison, if found guilty of both misdemeanors.