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South Williamsport, PA
United States

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County Hall Corner: Toughest Job in Town – Voter Services

How many of us would like a high profile job where it seems the whole world will see the result of the work? This job also allows for a zero margin of error — everything must be done perfectly. And just to make it even more challenging, the boss changes the way the job is

How many of us would like a high profile job where it seems the whole world will see the result of the work? This job also allows for a zero margin of error — everything must be done perfectly. And just to make it even more challenging, the boss changes the way the job is to be done every six months or so.

That is what Forrest Lehman, Director of the Lycoming County Office of Voter Services, must deal with, along with his tiny staff of four full-time workers and two part-timers. We only see our one precinct when we vote, and the final stats after the polls close, but there is a Himalayan-size mountain of work that happens before, during, and after an election.

The county’s Voter Services office must keep records for the 70,000 registered voters. This alone is a challenging task as voters are continually moving, getting married, dying off, changing party registration, or registering for the first time. The staff is literally working on these records on a daily basis, even gleaning state records and obituary notices to track those who have deceased.

There are 81 voting precincts in the county, and each needs a place to vote. Not just any place, but one with adequate parking, handicap access, sufficient space on the inside for the poll workers and the voting machines. These could be municipal and civic buildings, churches, fire halls, or schools, and these must each be supplied with the equipment and have it picked up when the voting day is completed. That is when the “real job” of counting the votes takes place.

Now, if this alone is like trying to juggle a dozen balls at one time, now imagine trying to do it during a hurricane. Our governor and legislators in Harrisburg are forever going back and forth on ways to ‘improve’ the election process. The very latest news out of our state capital is a second (!) election reform bill that appears likely to be passed in Pennsylvania this year. The chairs of the State Government Committee began circulating a cosponsorship memo for their joint plan, which allows for a three-day pre-canvassing rule, continuous video surveillance of ballot drop boxes, tightened application deadlines, and an elimination of the permanent mail-in list, among other changes.

And if these were not enough election pot-stirring, there is still an ongoing storm over the November 2020 election in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. State Senator President Pro Tempore Jake Corman has removed State Senator Doug Mastriano from the committee, who had been pressing hard for subpoenas for a forensic audit. In his place, Corman has chosen Senator Cris Dush, an Air Force veteran who has led a number of investigations for the military, to help design a thorough review of last year’s presidential election.

The stress on county directors for the Voter Services Departments cannot be over-exaggerated. In the past eighteen months, some 25 of the 67 county directors have resigned. Forrest Lehman spoke to the county commissioners two weeks ago and noted, “This is a shocking disruption of institutional knowledge because there is no formal training for this job – it is like a master/apprentice relationship.” He noted that he served for a year and a half as assistant director under Sandy Adams, and when she resigned in April 2015 after ten years in the post, Forrest was appointed the new director.

Normally, eight years would not seem long enough to be considered an old-timer, but in the current climate in Pennsylvania elections, Forrest noted that there are just a handful left of those in the twenty-year plus category; the greatest number are those who have only been doing it for one or two years.

One way that we as citizens can help these overburdened public servants is to volunteer to be a poll worker. Some 400 to 500 are needed to staff the county’s voting precincts, and the Department of Voter Services is continually looking for those who would be willing to commit to the task. Find out more by giving them a call at 570-327-2267 or email: voterservices@lyco.org. If you question if you have the time, remember that volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they have the heart.

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