I’m the Judge of Election for Lower Saucon 7. On Election Day, November 2, I had a couple very unpleasant interactions with a candidate for Saucon Valley School Board, Shamim Pakzad. I subsequently prepared a statement that I submitted to Amy Cozze, Chief Registrar of Elections for Northampton County. I wrote it for two reasons: first, to confirm that we had handled the situation correctly and in compliance with the rules governing polling locations and second, to have a contemporaneous statement of the events on file with the County.
Ms. Cozze confirmed that we did indeed handle the situation correctly and in accordance with the voting regulations.
Mr. Pakzad was re-elected to the Saucon Valley School Board. I think the residents of the school district have a right to know what their school board member thinks is appropriate behavior under the circumstances outlined. Rather than re-tell the story, I’ve simply provided a copy of the statement I made to the Registrar of Elections below.
“STATEMENT REGARDING EVENTS AT LOWER SAUCON 7 POLLING SITE
Tuesday, November 2, 2021.
Prepared by: Andrea Wittchen, Judge of Election. Friday, November 5, 2021
I was the Judge of Election for Lower Saucon 7 on Tuesday, November 2, 2021. Lower Saucon 7 and Lower Saucon 8 share a polling site in the Se-Wy-Co Fire Company Social Hall at 3621 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bethlehem, PA 18015.
Shamim Pakzad was a candidate for the Saucon Valley School Board. Early in the day, I saw him, I assume, voting in Lower Saucon 8 which I assume is his voting district. Afterwards, he came over to where I was at the Lower Saucon 7 registration table and struck up a conversation with me. I have spoken with Mr. Pakzad in the past by phone and over email and Facebook. As the conversation was dragging on, I was about to suggest that I needed to get back to my election duties when he ended the conversation and left.
Later that morning, I noticed that Mr. Pakzad was again back in the polling site, this time speaking at length with the Republican poll watcher. I was busy checking in voters but I estimate he was in the polling area for about 15-20 minutes.
After he left, I referred to my election workers polling guide to read up on who was allowed within a polling site because I thought I remembered that candidates were not allowed inside except to cast their own votes. I did not find any reference on the list of people allowed inside a polling site to a candidate being allowed on the premises.
A few hours later, I noticed that Mr. Pakzad was again back in the polling site, this time talking with election workers at the Lower Saucon 8 registration table. As I was walking over to the table, I heard him ask one of the workers how many people had voted in the precinct. After he left, I spoke with both Kathy, the Judge of Election for Lower Saucon 8, and Jody, the deputy constable, and advised them that candidates were not permitted in polling areas. I asked if he had provided any identification as a poll watcher, which I thought was unlikely, or some other classification that would permit him to be in the area. They said he had not shown anything like that. They confirmed that he had been asking for a count of how many people had voted.
Because we share the same voting space, Kathy and I often confer on details of election rules and protocol so that we are doing things consistently. She agreed that he should not be in the polling area.
Shortly thereafter, sometime before about 2:45 PM, for the fourth time Mr. Pakzad again entered the polling site. I approached him and informed him that unless he had some type of certification as a poll watcher or other legal justification, that as a candidate he was not permitted in the polling area. He then reached for the hand sanitizer and said he had just come in to use the hand sanitizer, couldn’t he do that? I advised him that that was not acceptable and that he would have to leave. He then said couldn’t he use the restroom? I said no, not really, that he was not permitted in the polling area. He kept pushing the point about using the restrooms until I agreed that if he used the back entrance to the area of the restrooms, which is completely separated from the polling area by closed doors, that he could access the restrooms that way.
He left, then came back to complain that the back entrance was locked. Jody agreed to open the door for him so he could use the restroom. Subsequently, throughout the rest of the afternoon, we found the door propped open and left it that way. When it became dark and the weather became colder to the point that some of my election team, which was closest to the restroom area, began to complain of being cold, I removed the log that was being used as a prop and closed the door. Someone then propped it open again. I removed the log and closed the door again. Before I did that, I consulted with Frank, the constable, who agreed we had every right to keep that door closed.
I would like to point out that there is a Speedway right down the street from Se-Wy-Co which has restroom facilities that are accessible to the public. In addition, we did not prevent – or for that matter even monitor – the use of the restrooms by voters, election workers, or poll watchers.
At the end of the day, after we had closed up the polls and were leaving to drive to the court house to return our election materials, Mr. Pakzad was waiting outside the building. As I left, he accosted me and loudly complained that I had applied the rules inequitably, that he was the only person who had been denied entrance to the polling area. I explained that those were the rules and that I was maintaining the integrity of the area by not permitting him to be in there. I also pointed out that we had made accommodation for him to access the restroom without having to transit the polling area.
He claimed that other candidates had walked straight through the polling area and used the restrooms. He specifically stated that Lori Vargo Heffner and Tom Carocci had walked through the polling area. I replied that I had not seen them do that, possibly because I was not there when it happened (I was out of the building from about 3 PM to about 4 PM) or because I was involved with election tasks. I told him that if I had seen them, I would have said something. He kept loudly complaining that I had been deliberately unfair to him. He kept it up until I entered my car. There were a number of witnesses to his behavior including most of my election team and several members of the Lower Saucon 8 election team.
I would like to state that while it is true that he was the only candidate that I requested abide by the election rules and stay out of the polling area, he was also the only candidate who entered that space 3 times in addition to the time he was there to vote, which made me notice that he was, in fact, unauthorized to be there. I did not see the other candidates he referred to, but they were definitely not in the space multiple times, requesting information from poll workers or conferring with poll watchers.
I believe that I acted in accordance with my oath and with the rules outlined in the guidebook that I was given to follow. I treated him politely but with firmness and insisted that he follow the rules just like every other candidate. I feel that his returning at the end of the day and waiting for me to leave was aggressive and uncalled for and that the claim of using the restroom was simply a pretext to justify his presence in a place he was not supposed to be. Before I told him that he had to leave, he had made no movement in the direction of the restrooms.”
FYI, according to voting regulations, candidates are only allowed in their own precincts to cast their votes. They are not permitted to converse with other voters or poll watchers within the polling area. They are not permitted in any other precincts for any purpose.