Todd Shepherd: Welcome everyone to a special report from Broad + Liberty. I’m Broad + Liberty’s investigative reporter, Todd Shepherd, and today, we want to go in-depth on mail-in voting, and what really are the security procedures behind mail-in voting, and how do they work? The reason we’re doing this, and I want to set this table a little bit before we bring on our guest, is, I noticed, and my colleagues at Broad + Liberty noticed both before and after the election, as we saw in mainly Republicans, but also some Democrats, talking about their skepticism of the mail-in voting processes. We realized how, oftentimes, these people who had this skepticism, they really just didn’t understand all of the security procedures that were in place.

Now, I’m not going to stand before you today and make an argument that the security procedures make this a 100 percent perfect process. I think there’s no such thing. Every election has capabilities for minor elements of fraud. I think systemic fraud is incredibly difficult to pull off. It’s near impossible because systemic fraud involves so many people. It’s just way too difficult to happen. But even just setting that idea aside, I think a lot of people don’t really understand the security mechanisms that are in place that have been set up at multiple levels, multiple points of the process, to root out fraud or to make mistakes catchable so that we can allay the kinds of concerns we’ve seen people express on social media so that people can vote with confidence. So with all of that in mind, I welcome to this conversation Seth Bluestein, who is a commissioner with the Philadelphia City Commissioner. Seth, we really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today. Thanks so much.

Seth Bluestein: Thanks for having me, Todd.

TS: You’ve worked at the Philly City Commissioner’s office for many years, actually. Give us the sixty-second rundown of your career, and especially your time at the Commissioner’s office.

SB: Sure. I am a lifelong Philadelphian, and for undergrad and grad school, I went to Penn. And while I was a student, I worked on a number of political campaigns, including former Commissioner Al Schmidt’s campaign for city commissioner. And when I graduated with my master’s degree in public administration, I began working in the commissioner’s office with Commissioner Schmidt at the time as his deputy commissioner, and I worked as his deputy commissioner for ten years running elections in Philadelphia. And when Al resigned to take over at the Committee of 70, I was nominated by the mayor and confirmed by city council to complete his term as city commissioner.

TS: So, in essence, how long exactly is your tenure, then, at the City Commissioner’s office in all your roles combined?

SB: Eleven years now.

TS: So you probably have twenty elections under your belt. When we talk about primary and general, am I close to — I mean, I’m not asking for an exact answer, but that’s gotta be pretty close, right?

SB: Yeah. And if you include special elections, we’re over two dozen now.

TS: Oh, goodness. Okay. So, that’s a long way of saying Seth knows his stuff. All right. So let’s just dive into this topic. I think the first question here, Seth, is kind of the easiest one, and I’ll set you up with a kind of a funny anecdote from my childhood. The small town I grew up in, I didn’t have a whole lot to do. And so I bowled a lot. And one year I got a mailing from my local bowling alley that was a sheet of 99-cent game coupons, and it was printed on this green piece of paper. And I took that to the Kinko’s nearby, and I asked him to make twenty more copies on the green sheet of paper. So basically, I bowled 99-cent games all summer long. Probably not my proudest moment, but you know, it’s growing up in small-town America.

And I think some people sort of have that same idea about election ballots — that because election ballots go out — I don’t know the exact number of days. Is it four weeks, five weeks? It doesn’t really matter — because ballots are in people’s hands well before the election, there’s a concern that someone could, in essence, counterfeit a ballot or multiple ballots and use those to commit fraud, in essence, and submit those counterfeit ballots so that they couldn’t be tracked back to anyone. What are the procedures, or what are the elements in place that would stop a counterfeit ballot from being cast?

SB: Yeah, it’s a great question, Todd. And before I answer that, I just want to touch on your opening for a moment and just say how right you are that there are procedures in place, generally speaking, whether it’s for mail-in votes or in-person votes to prevent widespread fraud and abuse of the system. And what we try to do in the commissioner’s office is to build trust in elections, and that trust is earned when we pursue any examples of irregularities that may turn out to be fraud, and then have conversations like this where we try to educate the public about how elections work. So with that being said, to answer your question — there’s a couple ways we make sure ballots can’t just be counterfeited and then counted as additional votes.

First thing being, we use a specific ballot paper stock. So you can’t just go to Kinko’s or Staples and just print off copies of ballots on regular paper. That would very easily be caught, and those ballots wouldn’t be counted. The other most important aspect of making sure counterfeit ballots aren’t counted is that the ballots are sent out to voters in envelopes that are barcoded for that specific voter. So we know whenever a voter returns a ballot in their envelope that we sent them, and they wouldn’t be able to return a ballot just in any envelope that isn’t one we send out. So there’s no way for additional ballots to be received by us and counted.

TS: Is there a way that you could — in other words, you can’t receive your mail-in ballot at home, fill it out and then just return the ballot only at the precinct. It still has to be in the outer envelope and the outer envelope would have that barcode, is that correct?

SB: Correct. When you return a ballot, it must be two things in Pennsylvania: first, inside of the secrecy envelope, and then that secrecy envelope is inside of what we call the declaration envelope. And that declaration envelope has a barcode on the bottom right corner that identifies the voter for whom the ballot is being returned. And that is the only way that we can receive your ballot. If your ballot is not inside of that declaration envelope, it will not be counted.

TS: Just because I’m curious, have you ever seen anything that looked like an attempt to counterfeit? I’d imagine it’s gotta be less than a handful, if you know, if you ever have, or maybe never, but, I’m curious as to what that looked like and how clownish it must have appeared.

SB: I’ve never seen an attempt to counterfeit the ballot and send in a fake ballot. I have seen a few examples of voters who accidentally returned the wrong ballot. And what I mean by that is there could be a voter who received a mail-in ballot for both the primary and the general, and for some reason chose not to vote. Sometimes we’ll find a primary ballot inside of that voter’s general election envelope. And then, of course, that ballot can’t be counted because it’s for the wrong election.

TS: Excellent. And so, just to kind of hammer home this point about the barcode, the barcode is assigned to a unique voter registration. So even if someone had the skill to somehow miraculously counterfeit a barcode for the outer envelope, and this is assuming they were able to match the paper stock of the ballot. And that’s matching — let me actually stop there for a second. Matching the paper stock actually matters because it won’t comport with the ballot tabulator, is that right?

SB: Yeah, and before I even answer that, it’s not even just the voter that the barcode identifies, it identifies the ballot correspondence that we sent that voter. So what I mean by that is, let’s say a voter was sent a ballot and they never received it, and they’re down in Florida and they’re voting by absentee, and they need us to send a replacement ballot.

The barcodes are specific to that individual ballot. So we would know not to count the original ballot, so a voter wouldn’t even be able to return it and have counted two ballots because we would know which barcode and correspondence to actually count when we receive it. So there’s even another layer there to prevent that type of additional vote.

TS: Okay. And then in terms of the paper stock and everything else, there are elements of that that the ballot scanner would either flag or reject?

SB: Yes. So the ballots are designed in a way to be counted by tabulators, and those tabulators are programmed to count the ballots that are on the specific paper stock that is designed in a very specific way. So if they were just printed at a Kinko’s on regular paper, those tabulators would know not to count those ballots.

TS: And this is exactly how you’ve seen those examples of where, say, it was the general, and someone accidentally mailed a primary ballot, and the tabulator rejected that or flagged that to the team, in that case, right?

SB: Correct. Yeah. If the election workers don’t identify it when they’re preparing the paper to be put into the tabulator, the tabulator rejects it and it goes into an outsource tray and the staff have to review it to find out why it was rejected, and it’s very easy to see that it’s the incorrect election.

TS: Okay. So I think that takes care of the first general set. The second is the big worry, I think, which is the concern that someone would request a mail-in ballot, receive it, mark it, send it in, and then also go try to vote on election day at their precinct or, or some similar combination of that. What are the safeguards in place? I’m sure there are many, and they’re layered, because we’re talking about a two-step process here.

SB: Yeah. So the first thing we have to keep in mind is, what is there to gain for an individual to do that? We’re talking about somebody who is attempting to commit a felony to add one vote. So right off the bat, it’s pretty rare for that even to be something that somebody would attempt. And that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen in 2020. We saw that in other counties in Pennsylvania; there’s a couple examples that the lieutenant governor — when he was tweeting about the 2020 election constantly — would point out on a regular basis.

But the safeguards in place at the polling place to prevent that from happening or mitigate against the risk of that happening — there’s a couple steps. First is, if you apply for a mail-in ballot, the poll book will be marked when it is printed with a watermark that says that you applied for a mail-in ballot. So the poll workers will know that there’s something going on here, and you’re not just a regular in-person vote. The second step is, if you returned your ballot prior to those poll books being printed, your name is actually removed from the poll book. So you won’t even be in the poll book to be able to sign in.

And if you returned your ballot after the initial poll books were printed, but prior to the Monday before election day, you’d actually be updated in the supplemental poll books, which we send to every single polling place where we give a list of voters and their updates to the poll workers so they can check that list to see if you ended up returning your ballot. So those are the first steps at the polling place to try and prevent something like this.

And then what Philadelphia has done for the past two and a half, three years now, is late arriving ballots, ballots that we received in the last three to five days before election day. We actually check those against the poll book when the poll books come back on election night, and then over the next couple days to verify that those late arriving ballots, those voters also didn’t vote in person.

TS: Okay. So, essentially, it sounds like there are three levels of checking. Have there been instances where someone — I’d imagine there have been, but what would it look like if somehow the poll book didn’t catch, or, you know, those kinds of first layer safeguards that you mentioned? If someone did cast — and I’m not suggesting a nefarious intent here — let’s say they received their ballot, they sent it, but for some reason, maybe they were concerned it got lost in the mail or something like that. So they wanted to be extra sure they go to their polling place and somehow they are able to cast a ballot at the polling place. What would be the last set of safeguards when the jurisdiction ends up with two ballots from one person? How is it caught and then which one would be used?

SB: Yeah, so, if you vote in person on the voting machine, once you cast your vote, they’re anonymized within the voting system, so you can’t unscramble that egg. So if an individual were to cast a vote on the voting machine, and then we also had a mail-in ballot or provisional ballot or any type of paper ballot in our processing center, that second ballot wouldn’t be counted.

TS: Okay. What are some of the theories or concerns you hear about tabulation, and how can we be sure that the tabulation is correct? And this is not to get into questions of Dominion polling machines and that a software was downloaded from China that switched votes. But what are some of the theories or concerns that you hear about tabulation, and what are the processes you would say to that citizen that would give them the trust that the tabulation is happening accurately?

SB: Yeah, and even if you put aside the conspiracy theories, like you said, there are a lot of voters who have legitimate questions of, I cast my vote, how do I know it was counted properly? That is a question we get all the time, right? And there’s a number of steps we take before and after the election to verify that the votes were counted accurately. So the first thing we do is we do something called “logic and accuracy testing.” And we do this testing prior to election day on every single voting machine and all the tabulators for the mail-in ballots.

And what that does is, we have staff cast test votes and run through a test deck of ballots, and then they verify that the tabulators and the voting machines are accurately tabulating those votes for the expected totals. So the staff will know what the vote total should be during that test, and then they make sure it matches, and it does.

And of course, we wouldn’t approve any of the machines to be used if they didn’t pass that test. And then after election day, we do, in Pennsylvania, two different types of audits. The first audit we complete in the election cycle is known as a “risk-limiting audit.” It is something we’ve been able to do since the 2019 general when we first used our new voting machines. And what that does is, we take a statistical sample of the ballots, and we verify that the results from that statistical sample are within an accepted margin of error, the expected results from election day. So with 99.5 percent confidence, we can say that the winner was actually the winner.

And then the traditional audit is, what is called in Pennsylvania, a “two percent audit,” which every county does. And it is when you hand-audit either 2,000 ballots or 2 percent of the ballots that are cast, whichever number is lower. And in Philadelphia, that means we’re always auditing 2,000 ballots. And you, by hand, go through every single vote that was cast on those ballots, and you make sure that, when you do a hand audit, that that audit matches what the tabulator is saying. And we do that after every single election to make sure that the votes are being counted accurately.

TS: And when are those — how does the city — so, in this case, you can only speak to the city. I’m sure it may vary in other counties, but how does the city present the results of that to the public? Is it just through press release or, you know — because I’m not suggesting that the city ought to do that, the last audit you just talked about, the hand recount of 2,000 ballots — but it sounds to me like if that were done in some sort of broadcast manner, I wonder how many people would watch it. I think more than I would expect, but, how does the city convey the results of those audits to the public?

SB: That’s a good question. And there’s actually a new process in place for this general election that just passed. In the past, those audits would occur during the canvas process. So I know people are used to seeing results on the news or on our website and on election night, just knowing the winner. But those are unofficial tallies that are presented to the public. The way the process has always worked, and this is prior to 2020 and since 2020, is you actually have a 20-day window of time when votes are counted. And this is true all over the country.

Every state has a canvassing period, and that period includes two weeks of actually counting votes, and then a week in which those results are made public and can be challenged in court or asked for recounts or anything like that. So those audits occur during that window of time, and they are open to the credentialed observers who have been at the campus observing the counting of the county unit vote the entire time. Now, the thing that’s new for this past election is we had to submit the results of our audit with our certification to the Department of State. And the Department of State is supposed to post on their website, not just the certified results, but also the certified audit of those results.

TS: Excellent. Okay. So let’s move on to the next big thing, which I think is sort of the most charged term or the term people have become the most familiar with lately: ballot harvesting. I feel like just those two words have many layers to be unpacked there. Because — well, why don’t you start? I mean, ballot harvesting, I think some people use that term correctly, and some people use it kind of incorrectly. Would you agree with me, and how would you define ballot harvesting?

SB: Well, you see that term used in a lot of different ways, and it’s not always used accurately. So I guess the first thing to make sure people understand is every state has its own election laws. And at the county level where we implement the elections, we have to follow Pennsylvania’s election laws. But other states have different procedures.

So in some states, you might be able to collect ballots for your neighbors and turn them in, or maybe only for your household or your spouse. In Pennsylvania, the only people who can turn in somebody else’s ballot is an individual who is a designated agent for somebody who is disabled. And that disabled voter can sign an affidavit and allow somebody to turn their ballot in for them, and they can only do so for a single person’s household for that disabled voter.

So ballot harvesting in the sense of a negative connotation would imply somebody’s going around a political agent and they’re collecting a ton of ballots from people and they’re turning them in. You just don’t see that very often in Pennsylvania.

TS: But is it a — I don’t want to put you on the spot with your opinion here. I will say that I think there’s something when, when a law is broken, sometimes that is a kind of feedback mechanism. For example, I’ll tell you that when — I can’t even remember the software name, the one that started peer-to-peer music downloads first opened up, and then there was Limewire and all of these other things where people essentially started sharing music without purchasing it. Essentially, they were breaking the law because they were not paying for that music. They were, in essence, stealing it. But when the stealing became so pervasive, it was a signal to the music industry that the laws just weren’t working or they had become outdated, or that the marketing method of the materials had become outdated.

And that’s what’s happened. That’s what had happened, is people were no longer content to buy CDs. They wanted to purchase their music over the internet, and they wanted to purchase it à la carte, not by album.

And I think the same sort of thing can be applied here. I hope people get the analogy of what I’m trying to say here is that when the governor admits that he didn’t know the law and he broke it, and Mayor Kenney very nearly did the same thing. And the only way he was stopped from doing it was because there was somebody monitoring the ballot box, or the drop-off box. It suggested to me that there’s something that — that the law is out of step with the way people want to vote or are willing to vote.

I’m not saying, “Oh, it’s okay for people to break the law,” but I am saying when even the governor can say, “I didn’t even know, and I apologize,” that’s the kind of feedback that says something needs to be updated here. I don’t really have a pointed question to you about that, but is there anything there you want to chime in about?

SB: In my experience, I’ve seen that a number of times. I mean, when we’re at a ballot collection site, or we’re at City Hall and somebody comes in and they try and turn in both their ballot and their kid’s ballot or their ballot and their spouse’s ballot. Now, these are legitimate votes. They are registered voters, they are individually signed declaration envelopes from those individual voters. But we have to turn the second ballot away because you can’t turn in somebody else’s ballot except for that one narrow exception.

And the voters, while they’re almost always polite about it, they don’t understand why it is so cumbersome for them to be able to turn in those votes. And  in theory, they could just go to a mailbox and drop off the mail like they would a bill or anything else that they turn in for their spouse or their family members. So I think there’s definitely a conversation to be had about what exactly are we protecting against, and balancing the interests of the voters who certainly, at least in my experience, feel like the current restrictions are a little bit too tight.

TS: Right. And again, not seeking a comment from you here, I’ll just chime in that, in my reporting career, I lived for ten years in Colorado and I lived there when the state went to all-mail balloting. Now, that’s not to say that everyone who votes in a Colorado election has to cast their ballot by mail, but everyone does get a mail ballot. If somebody chooses to go to the precinct and vote there, they can do that. But, so in Colorado, for example, someone actually can harvest or collect up to ten ballots and then turn those in, and then they can go repeat that process as many times as they want. And I do think there are security reasons to talk about whether that’s an appropriate technique or not, because at this point, it’s no longer a get out the vote effort where you might go pick someone up, take them to the polls, and they cast their ballot at the polling place in a secure environment.

At this point, you’re sort of putting your ballot in that the get out the vote effort becomes very personal because the person is now collecting that ballot in your home or at your doorstep, oftentimes. And I would say that there’s the possibility that political pressures could be put on people. I don’t think it’s pervasive.

And again, I don’t think you could do it in the thousands to change a presidential election, but it still would be a tragedy if someone were approached at home and they were somehow pressured to fill out their ballot a certain way. Or let’s say maybe they’re not of fully sound mind or sound body, and the person who goes to collect a ballot can put some sort of pressure on that person. But again, there has been an example of ballot harvesting fraud, and in this case it was a Republican in North Carolina who did that.

So I think you’re absolutely right that there is a conversation that the general assembly and the governor, — the governor-elect in this case — are going to have to hash out about that. So let’s move on to the — I think the last set here of the conversation, which would be drop boxes. And again, the concerns that people have here are so many, I don’t even want to detail them. Let me just turn it over to you, and talk to me about the concerns you’ve seen from people about drop boxes and how drop boxes actually work.

SB: Yeah, drop boxes are one of the most pervasive questions I receive when I’m out talking to civic associations or to the public at events. And I think there’s a lot of questions about, what is a drop box? How does it actually work? And what procedures are in place to prevent fraud? So when I talk about drop boxes, I guess the first question is, why are drop boxes necessary? And they are a function of how our laws are structured for receiving and returning ballots.

So the application deadline for a mail ballot is one week before election day, so seven days, and we have, by law, 48 hours to process those applications and get those ballots out, which makes sense when you’re talking about thousands or tens of thousands of applications that are received and need to be processed on that last day. So your ballot is mailed out to you in five days.

If you apply on the deadline five days before election day, and let’s say the postal service is really speedy and you receive it within two days. So now you only have three days to vote your ballot and turn it back in. So what we’re talking about here is very short windows of time for ballots to be received. And in Pennsylvania, the ballot must be received by eight p.m. on election day. So there’s no postmarks, there’s no receiving these ballots later in the week other than military. All regular civilian ballots must be received by eight p.m. on election day.

So where do drop boxes come in? When you look at the data, the drop boxes become most used and most necessary within the last four days before the election, including election day. So that Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. And what you see is a lot of voters who have received their ballot and they were either waiting to cast their vote or they just received it and they want to get it back to us. So they put it in one of our drop boxes.

Now, what is a drop box? A drop box, functionally, is the same thing as one of those blue mailboxes you see on almost every corner, except, rather than being collected by a postal worker, is collected by our staff. And what that means is every single day we receive those ballots directly from voters. We have a chain of custody forms. And when an employee goes to a drop box, they sign the form, they take the ballots out, they deliver it to the warehouse, the person receiving it signs the form, and then those ballots are time and date stamped, and they go through the normal process to be counted or rejected depending on the specific details.

So a drop box, in addition to that procedure and being handled directly by us and said postal workers, has notices on the box, making sure that the voters understand what the law is. So it’s giving them a warning, “Hey, you can only turn in your own ballot outside of these narrow exceptions.” So there’s that extra layer of communication with the voters that they wouldn’t have at a post office or regular blue mailbox.

And the last piece for drop boxes compared to regular mailboxes is the drop boxes are under video surveillance. So if something were to be suspicious or need to be looked at, we can go through that footage and take a look at what is going on with that particular drop box.

TS: But again, here, I think, and I rarely see this spelled out, but I think the implied theory that I see oftentimes is that someone can drop off a hundred ballots. And this really essentially kind of goes back to the first question of, if you were going to drop off a hundred ballots, you’d have to counterfeit them. I mean, if you were going to do this in a fraudulent way.

Yes, someone could, obviously, go get a hundred ballots from all their friends and family and go drop that off, and that would be technically illegal. But those ballots would not be fraudulent if they were marked in the conscience of each of those individuals who filled out the ballot.

But the sense that I repeatedly get from people who seem really concerned about drop boxes is that this is an anonymous way for people to manufacture dozens or hundreds of extra ballots and submit them into the system. And this really just gets back to the original question of you have to be able to counterfeit the ballot in the first place, right?

SB: Yeah. It goes to one of the earlier questions in this conversation, which is the manufacturing and counterfeiting of ballots, and then figuring out how to get them to us in proper envelopes where we have specific barcodes that the individual person who’s doing this wouldn’t be able to know what barcode we’re expecting from each individual voter. So, that’s just not happening. So, what I see people concerned about is the collection of ballots from other people and then dropping them off in that drop box. And like you said, the fear of somebody collecting a hundred ballots and going to their friends or their neighbors and doing that.

But then my response is always, well, that doesn’t have anything to do with the drop box, that has to do with the individual person who’s committing that act because they could just as easily go to a blue mailbox a block away and drop those ballots off the same way. So the question isn’t of concern about a drop box versus a mailbox, it’s a question of the conversation we just had about whether or not we see a pervasive effort by people to collect hundreds of ballots, and we are just not seeing that.

TS: Right. Okay, Seth, I feel like we’ve gone through most of the — well, actually, now as I say that, I’m reminded of one other thing, and this is less voting by mail, but this was a complaint I saw regularly. And when I saw it in Pennsylvania, it was more about the 2020 election. In the 2022 election, I saw this complaint more about Arizona, and it was, when the tabulation takes two or three days or it extends many days beyond the actual second Tuesday in November, I frequently see people say, “well, they’ll just figure out how many more ballots they need to cast so that the Democrat can catch up and then they’ll add those totals to the system.”

Is it possible, or would it be a good practice, I guess you might say, for some governments in Pennsylvania, before they actually start tabulating, for them to actually say to the public, “We have X amount of ballots returned, and when we count —when we are finished counting — we will have the number of votes that will match the number of ballots, except for maybe three or four or however many handful that have to be disqualified because they were accidentally — someone sent in their primary, primary ballot and its general election. Would it help the public’s confidence if this vote counting agency said, “Before we count anything, I’m here to tell you that we have 566,228 total votes cast, and when we total them up, that’s how many votes we’ll have.”

SB: Yeah. So one of the new things that counties in Pennsylvania had to do in this election, in most counties — for those who took the election integrity grant from the state legislature — was post an unofficial number of ballots received by midnight on election night. And the reason that number is unofficial is because military and overseas voters have an additional week to return their ballots. So there are some ballots that we added to that count. There are also ballots who have not yet verified their identification.

So, some of those ballots will be counted if they turn in their identification, and some of them won’t be. And then, like you said, there will be some that are rejected because they’re either the wrong election or they’re a naked ballot or they didn’t sign their ballot or something like that. So the number can be very close.

It’ll never be an exact one-to-one because of all these different categories that come up while you’re canvassing the ballots. But, you know, it’s very important for voters and for candidates and campaigns and the public at large to have transparency and to understand what their expectations are for how many ballots about approximately there should be, and then how many are getting counted. And we did that this election. And our numbers look very good. They’re very accurate. And part of the reason it takes so long to count votes — in Pennsylvania, at least — is because we don’t have preprocessing or pre-canvass prior to election day.

So, we can’t even start opening and reviewing those ballots until seven a.m. on election day. And when you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of envelopes and pieces of paper, it takes a lot of time to review all that and to count them accurately. In Arizona – there are other reasons every state processes their ballot differently, but at least for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that would be the reason why.

TS: Right. But just so — if I’m hearing you correctly, the only counties that have to do this are the ones that have applied for and received one of these grants that the state established through law in the last session, right?

SB: Correct. And that’s the vast majority. It’s over 60 counties, right? 67.

TS: Okay. Excellent. So, now I think I can accurately say I’ve run out of questions. But are there any other items you’d like to touch on or final thoughts you’d like to give us before we conclude our conversation here?

SB: I would just say, broadly speaking, I want to encourage everybody who’s listening or reading this to really, when they’re asking questions, go to the source of where that information is. So if you have a question about, well, how do I know my ballot was counted properly? Or, what about this individual person’s ballot who, you know, they received it, but they haven’t verified their identification yet — how do I know that you’re actually checking their ID to make sure their ballot should be counted? Asking those questions of a trusted source is really important. Because there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Sometimes it’s well-meaning and the person just misunderstands the process. Sometimes it’s a little bit more intentional, but regardless, putting out information that isn’t accurate or isn’t taking into account the nuance of how elections are run creates more distrust in the system than the actual procedures.

And I think having conversations like this is so important to rebuilding the trust in our elections so that everybody, whether it’s Democrats, Republicans or independents, they all go into an election knowing what the rules of the game are, knowing that there are civil service employees and public servants who are counting those votes. They’re doing their absolute best to count those votes accurately and timely. And then when the results are certified, that everyone can have faith in that process and in those results. And that’s what we’ve been working on every single day over our career, is to build that level of trust. So thank you for having this conversation because it’s just another really important piece of that puzzle.

TS: Well, that’s exactly why we wanted to do it. He is Seth Bluestein, a commissioner in Philadelphia, a city commissioner, which essentially means he’s one of the three people charged with running the government agency that runs the voting in Philadelphia. So Seth, thank you very much. It’s an awful lot of your time to have given us on this topic, our conversation’s up to almost 45 minutes now, and I’m glad we were able to cover so many topics and to do so in such great depth. Thank you very much.

SB: Thanks, Todd. Appreciate being here.

(Editor’s note: This conversation happened on Dec. 13, 2022)

Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at, or use his encrypted email at

3 thoughts on “A Broad + Liberty interview with Philadelphia City Commissioner Seth Bluestein on election integrity”

  1. Very informative interview. The system may be able to be “gamed” on an individual level, but it would take a lot to do it widespread and coordinated in my opinion. It would be better for Republicans in Pennsylvania to actually get involved in the entire process and learn how it works, comply with the requirements, run decent candidates and see if they can win elections.

    1. Well said. I don’t always agree with Republicans’ opinions but if they can run good, clean campaigns and forcefully distance themselves from the debunked conspiracy theories which led to the lawless, violent attack on our nation 2 years ago then they absolutely deserve to win. Unfortunately, even after all the recounts, audits, and failed lawsuits, the majority of Republican voters still believe Biden won through fraud. We still saw countless candidates in 2022 who ran on promoting this view and we still see entrenched efforts to obstruct investigations into the illegal efforts of the former president (and 2024 candidate)’s attempts to overturn election results. Our republic will only survive if people accept the process even when the results don’t go the way they’d like. I’m reminded of Cicero, who gave his life to save the Roman republic from power hungry, populist, anti-establishment tyrants who wouldn’t accept the lawful transfer of power and limits on power set by the Senate. Let’s hope we don’t repeat Rome’s mistakes.

  2. Paper stock, oh like the paper stock that was bad I. ARIZONA? Barcodes do not guarantee that the person who it’s intended for actually returned it, all over the country there is proof including Delaware and Chester County of ballots being sent to places not built, abandoned parking lots, people who no longer live in the county let alone state, people who were in the SURE system during the election voted and then removed, we have proof of all of this. Lets also mention the fact that when it comes to wrong ballot defintion and also weight of paper that you discuss aka paper stock ,will not get through this is caught at logic and accuracy testing which is not being done according to law or stanadards. As for drop boxes absent chain of custody and people ballot harvest returning someone else’s ballot and multiple at that which is a violation of law. Let’s also mention Gregory Stenstrom who did a forensic imaging on a central tabulator in Philadelphia in 2008 and it hadn’t been turned on in 10 years. What a bunch of gaslighting!! The EU has 27 countries, 68% do not use mail in ballots, why? Because of fraud

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