Last year, Mike Miller filed a lawsuit against the County of Lancaster over access to public voting records. Now, the Ephrata Township resident has made criminal complaints to the District Attorney against two County employees.
In the complaints, Miller alleges that Jacqueline Pfursich and Tammy Bender committed the crime of Official Oppression by “abus[ing] the authority of their office to deny me lawful access to public records.”
Miller’s complaints focus predominantly on Pfursich and Bender’s refusal to allow him to inspect and copy public records according to law.
“Beginning on June 8, 2022 and continuing over the past 11 months, the defendant, acting as solicitor for County of Lancaster, refuses to permit my public inspection and copying of public records that are required by statute to be open to public inspection,” Miller’s private criminal complaint against Pfursich reads. “The defendant’s conduct is criminal under Title 18 and the Pennsylvania Election Code.”
A similar complaint alleges Bender, the County Open Records Officer, did the same.
Miller initially requested access to inspect Lancaster County’s mail-in ballots and accompanying envelopes from the 2022 primary election. Miller had challenged state Sen. Ryan Aument in the Republican primary in the 36th Senate District, and lost to the incumbent who received 60% of the vote.
County officials responded to Miller’s original request, denying him access to view the ballots but allowing him to view the envelopes with redacted signatures.
Miller appealed the decision to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (OOR), which ruled that the ballots and envelopes are public records and ordered the County to provide access according to law within 30 days.
In response to the OOR’s order, Pfursich agreed to make the public records available to Miller, but with several added restrictions.
In a letter dated October 5, 2022, and signed by Pfursich, the County agreed to make the “records available” to Miller based on the OOR’s decision, but also stated that the “County will require compliance” on seven points including “no photography or video shall be permitted” and “one person shall inspect at a time.” The letter also said that the County may have a sheriff deputy present during inspection of the documents.
Another restriction declared that “no writing implement shall be permitted near the records” and notes must be taken “on the opposite side of the room.”
If followed, the restrictions would effectively prevent Miller from making copies of the records.
Miller responded with an Oct. 13 letter to Christa Miller, Chief Clerk of Elections, stating that he rejected the terms offered by Pfursich.
(The two Millers are not related.)
“While I appreciate the Board’s desire to follow the regulations for safekeeping our election documents, no county official has been granted authority to promulgate its own regulations, nor create or maintain policies that restrict my right to inspect and copy the documents.” Mike Miller wrote.
Miller contends that the Board is misapplying the Election Code, and that it has no legal authority to create restrictions that eliminate his right to inspect and copy public records.
The County can keep the ballots safe, Miller wrote, but not by preventing a “qualified elector from inspecting or making a copy of them.”
The Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law of 2008 dictates that public records, unless otherwise provided by law, “shall be accessible for inspection and duplication in accordance with this act.”
Section 3150.17 of the Pennsylvania election code states that “all official mail-in ballots, files, applications for ballots and envelopes on which the executed declarations appear, and all information and lists are designated and declared to be public records.”
Those statutes, Miller contends, supersede the restrictions put forth by Pfursich forbidding Miller from duplicating the public records via photographs or videos.
Miller told The Lancaster Patriot that he decided against viewing the records under Pfursich’s terms, because the terms “are unlawful.”
Miller has faced criticism from the left-leaning media outlet LNP|LancasterOnline, including an article published last year which described the OOR ruling as something that could “give election conspiracy theorists access to hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of filled out mail-in ballots and signed ballot return envelopes.”
Miller, however, believes he is simply holding government officials accountable.
“People complain about government officials not being held accountable, but accountability begins with oversight and evidence,” Miller told The Lancaster Patriot. “If citizens don’t care enough to do that work, who do they think will? The government officials?”
A spokesperson from Pfursich’s office told The Lancaster Patriot that Miller’s complaints are “baseless.”
“Mr. Miller’s requests have been approved but he is refusing to come in and view the ballots under the same conditions which would be applied to any citizen,” Michael Fitzpatrick, Communications Director for the Lancaster County Commissioners Office, said in an e-mail to The Lancaster Patriot. “His previous cases have been dismissed by the Court of Common Pleas and now, unfortunately, he is now trying to abuse the legal process through a baseless private criminal complaint.”
The office of the District Attorney can choose to approve or disapprove of Miller’s criminal complaint. If that office determines that probable cause exists, the complaint will be approved and returned to a district judge to issue process.
Miller is also appealing his initial lawsuit to the Commonwealth Court.
Miller’s criminal complaints and accompanying documentation can be viewed here.