WEST CHESTER – With the May primary election in Pennsylvania approaching, the question of how to ensure public confidence in the authenticity of election results is becoming a topic for discussion as a number of Republicans and others weigh excessive deficiencies in the state mail ballot.

Earlier this month, Republican leaders in the Philadelphia area issued a series of recommendations that they said would help “ensure our elections are effective, transparent and uniform.”

These include the presence of security guards in ballot boxes and ballot papers by mail; operation of boxes only during normal working hours; requiring voters who drop their ballot to sign the magazine at the ballot box; and using video surveillance systems on sites that district voter services can view and allow party employees to do the same.

In Chester County, the proposals were met by a Democratic majority in the Board of Commissioners with the muted acceptance and support of their Republican counterpart, although all three noted that some of them, according to GOP officials, already operate in the county.

The recommendations, signed by Chester County Republican Chairman Dr. Gordon Eck, came at a time when the District Voter Services Service has made a multifaceted effort to educate and inform voters about how the constituency is running and the steps to be taken. to address issues that arose during last November’s election.

On March 18, Karen Barsum, director of the electoral service, together with district attorney Nicole Forzata, presented the existing system and the changes that will be made at the primaries on May 28, answering questions from the public about the process.

Barsum’s presentation included a discussion of how voter lists are maintained to ensure that only voters registered in the constituency participate in local elections; updated ways in which the county will administer the “chain of custody” rules for both poll results and “ballot” voting; new mail voting systems designed to avoid problems that arose in November; and the timing when the results are tabulated and reported.

Part of her message, she said in an interview last week, was that voters who use the new practice of voting by mail should take into account the nature of voting at the “kitchen table”. That is, she suggested, not just sitting down for coffee or dinner on weekdays to choose which candidates to vote for, but also to be informed about how to vote correctly and safely, and how not to make mistakes that would invalidate your vote.

She warned that spilling coffee on the ballot paper, a mistaken signature of the wife on her husband’s ballot paper, or failing to complete the ballot sending procedure could lead to the exclusion of votes.

Barsum – who took over the leadership of the constituency in March 2021 after serving as chief aide in the Berks County office – also predicted that even with the decline in COVID-19 in the constituency in recent months, many voters chose to stay away from the polls. polling stations when the pandemic was in full swing in 2020, and in 2021 will continue to opt for the mailing system (unless it is repealed by courts or legislatures) because it is more convenient for voters in the county to use.

She also warned that while the procedure of voting by mail continues – the received ballots cannot be opened and pre-sorted before the election day, which delays the final counting of votes – the previous practice of announcing the “final” results on election day will remain a memory. It may be several days before it is possible to reliably count all the votes cast and determine the winner, she said.

In their report, Republican leaders took the example of the Montgomery County Republican Party, which detailed the problems that arose there last year, but they were not necessarily present in Chester County or elsewhere.

“Over the past few years, our election in Southeast Pennsylvania has faced a variety of challenges that have caused great distrust of the system among many voters,” the release said.

They cited “thousands” of incorrectly printed ballots, voters who received incorrect ballots by mail, election results that changed two weeks after election day, erroneous election results, and some polling stations did not have enough ballots per day. elections, representatives were not given a significant opportunity to verify ballot papers and unmanned ballot boxes. All of these factors “have created a significant lack of confidence in our voting system. Many voters believe their vote doesn’t count, and tell us they won’t worry about voting.

They called on the Democrats, who lead the five constituencies, to take “reasonable, uniform security measures … to ensure that our elections are effective, transparent and uniform.”

In a statement issued Friday by county commissioners, county chair Marianne Muscovite and vice-chairman Josh Maxwell, both Democrats, they said local election officials and officials “have always worked with both the Republican and Democratic parties to implement and constantly review the processes that allow voters to cast their ballots in safe and secure ways so that every legitimate vote can be recorded.

“With the introduction of Law 77 (the state’s postal law, passed with the support of two parties in 2019), the same process of cooperation continued and extended to the availability of secure ballot boxes for mail and absentee ballots,” the couple said. “Our election officials are working on every aspect of the election process all year round, and especially on the eve of the election.

“We appreciate the time and attention given to these recommendations, some of which are already part of the electoral process here in Chester County,” they said in a statement sent to them by the Republican Party last week. “We will continue to work with party leaders to determine what further steps may be possible.”

For her part, Republican Commissioner Michelle Kichline suggested the county hire an outside consultant to help train election workers and staff, as well as take additional security measures proposed by her Republican counterparts.

“Law 77 was a flawed piece of legislation that was enacted in the state for the first time during the pandemic,” she said, urging the state legislature to revise it. “Across the Commonwealth, this has been implemented in different ways, creating confusion and, as in 2021, here in our county, some administrative issues.

She also praised Barsum’s “changes in common sense” in the mailing process, including compliance protocols and colored voting packages, but agreed that the law “pushed the vote count far beyond the election date, creating staffing issues and perceptions of uncertainty.” .

Barsum said in an interview last week that her department will soon start posting videos on its social networks and on the website to explain to voters the changes and make them aware of how the process works.

To contact full-time writer Michael P. Relahan, call 610-696-1544.

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