The yin and yang of mail-in ballots and our elections

Pennsylvania voters registered as Democrats and Republicans will head to the polls — or their mailboxes — for next week’s primary election.

But there are problems that could make this year’s elections even more of a debacle than the hanging chad controversy of the 2000 U.S. presidential election.

Two decades ago, Florida was using punch cards for voting that often resulted in dimples, or “hanging chads.” The result of Florida’s polling was unclear for a month after the election. The matter of who would receive Florida’s 25 electoral votes ultimately was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor or Republican candidate George W. Bush over Democratic candidate Al Gore.

Some 20 years later, America is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a number of states, including Pennsylvania, are moving forward with at least the option of mail-in ballots.

There are good reasons for this, particularly the protocols for cleaning and social distancing that have been prescribed as a way to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. A second wave has been predicted for this fall.

It’s probably a good thing that this is being tested during the primary so any issues may be resolved before the Nov. 3 general election.

We already are seeing a few hiccups.

For one, the company contracted by Lycoming County to provide mail-in ballots sent out duplicate ballots to a number of people.

Since then, we’ve heard from other people about difficulty getting their ballots. The county invited those people to Voter Services to pick up ballots in person.

And we’re learning that it’s not just here in Lycoming County where there have been problems.

In Montgomery County, nearly 2,000 people received incorrect ballots — registered Democrats found Republican ballots in their mailbox, and registered Republicans found Democratic ballots.

We wonder what other glitches may have occurred across the state, not to mention the swift delivery of election-related mail — your ballots.

Voters would be wise to remember that local mail goes to Harrisburg for processing following the closure of the mail processing facility on Reach Road about seven years ago. At the time, it was said that a piece of mail posted in Williamsport would take an average of four days to arrive at another address here.

That said, if a voter posts a mail-in ballot today, it may arrive on Tuesday, primary election day. But it’s not guaranteed. Voters who have not yet sent off their ballots might want to consider voting instead on a provisional ballot at the polls.

We also wonder about the massive effort that it will take for Voter Services offices here and across the state to open and count mail-in ballots on Tuesday. According to Forrest K. Lehman, director of elections and registration in Lycoming County, unless there is a court order to extend the election, his office is mandated to start and complete the count on Tuesday.

We will watch what may be a remarkable operation. Or a superhuman feat attempted by mortal men and women. Opening and scanning mail-in ballots — potentially 10,400 pieces of mail in Lycoming County — may begin at 7 a.m. Only ballots received at Voter Services by 8 p.m. will be counted. Postmarks are not sufficient. That gives election officials 17 hours to get ‘er done. On that note, we can only wish them the best of luck.

In the end, we will always prefer a physical presence at the precincts on election day. The practice of going to the polls and casting ballots is an American exercise not to be taken lightly. Assuring that every vote counts may best be accomplished by personally casting a ballot at the polls instead of relying on the Postal Service or any other form of messenger to get it there without a hitch and on time.

With or without a pandemic.


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