Pennsylvania

The rules of voting by mail can slow down the election results – again – the Morning Bell

This article was made possible by Searchlight softwarecooperation with Votebeat, a non-partisan information organization that covers local elections and voting. This article is available for reprint on the terms Votebeat reprint policy.

The rush to count hundreds of thousands of ballots in Pennsylvania will not begin until 7 a.m. election day – and in some constituencies even later.

Given that voters requested 908,903 ballots for the May 17 primaries – now thousands return to polling stations every day – the restriction means it is unknown how complete the election night will be in critical races for governors, U.S. senators and other key figures. positions.

Contributing to any restraint would again to be lack of campaigning, the ability of workers to open and process ballots by mail before election day and thus speed up the counting process. Three years after the introduction of postal voting, Pennsylvania is one of the minority states that does not allow the pre-publication of its ballots by mail, unlike 37 states what do.

Acting Secretary of State Lee Chapman says a restriction in Pennsylvania’s law on postal voting is a common problem for local election officials.

“One thing that all Pennsylvania constituencies agree on is the need for prior campaigning when it comes to postal voting,” Chapman told a recent news conference. “You know, states like Florida are reporting their results on election night. In Pennsylvania, it takes a few days. ”

After Pennsylvania passed Law 77 in 2019, Pennsylvania voters were excited about the opportunity to vote from home using postal ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the November 2020 elections, more than 2.6 million voters voted by mail.

But restrictions before the campaign forced election officials to decide whether to try to count personal and postal votes on the same day, or to reschedule the counting of ballots later.

“Election Day is“ already a day when there’s a lot of stress and a lot of work, ”Chapman said.

Each constituency follows its own plan for processing postal and absentee ballots. Votebeat has sent polls to election officials in all 67 constituencies about the timing of their vote count this year. Of the 20 constituencies that responded, about three-quarters of them plan to start counting at 7 a.m. on election day.

>> READ MORE: A guide to everything you need to know to vote on May 17th

Some counties have other plans. Mercer County, in the western part of the Commonwealth, will not start counting its ballots by mail until the day after election day, said Ted Hall, the county’s director of elections. He counts ballots by mail at the same time as counting military and absentee ballots, he said. Berks County plans to do the same.

Lacquana County intends to begin at 7:30 a.m. the opening of returned ballots with a total of 15,439 respondents. Although they will not be detached from the envelopes and scanned until 1:30 p.m., the county expects the count to end by 6 p.m., said Elizabeth Hopkins, the county’s director of election.

In Jefferson County, there were only 1,671 requests to send ballots by mail to the primaries, so all ballots returned before election day must be counted by noon, officials said.

In Philadelphia, where 104,465 ballots were requested by mail, temporary workers are joining the ranks of city workers destined to count the ballots, said City Commissioner Seth Bluestein.

“Workers come and we train them,” he said. “Some of them come back every year and we train them again. The more people you have, the faster you can count. ”

Here’s how these workers count ballots by mail in Philadelphia, a process reminiscent of counting in many other major Pennsylvania counties, with variations depending on available equipment and staff, as well as a large number of ballots:

On election day, all ballots received by mail are brought to the polling station from a safe place. They are being checked to make sure every voter is dated and signed by the outer envelope, said Lisa Dili, chairwoman of Philadelphia city commissioners, the body responsible for counting the city’s votes.

The envelopes are then passed through an extractor machine, which removes the inner secret envelope from the outer envelope. The envelope containing the valid ballot paper is opened and the ballot paper is removed. Once removed, these ballots are placed in a tray and transferred to another area, where they are deployed, sent to another area, and finally scanned by another machine, which then summarizes them in a table.

>> READ MORE: Everything you need to know about requesting, filling out and returning a ballot paper by mail

The fate of ballots that are not enclosed in an envelope, the so-called “naked” ballots, depends on when they will be discovered. If the envelope in which the ballot paper is enclosed does not look thick enough, or if the ballot paper itself is visible in the privacy window from the outer envelope, it is considered “naked”.

If an error is detected before the vote count, voters in Philadelphia, as well as in other constituencies, notify the voter by email and give the opportunity to apply for a second ballot. But if a blank ballot is not found before the vote count begins, the voter is informed that his vote had to be rejected.

“It’s a very long process,” Dili said. “It’s like making a cake. We start from the bottom and build layer by layer. When all the layers are completed, we can show the numbers of voters. “

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After the polls close at 8pm, the results of the counting of ballots by mail, which have been counted so far, will be announced along with personal voting, Dili said.

While election officials are taking steps such as hiring temporary agencies to count ballots, expanding facilities to accommodate more powerful machines and training more people to move things, what they say will really make counting smoother and faster. – This is an opportunity to preview mail. ballots.

Preliminary campaigning also, many say, would help prevent the mistrust that flourished in 2020, when delay in counting ballots by mail contributed to Pennsylvania becoming the center of Trump’s baseless allegations of rigged elections.

Forced to wait for ballots to be processed by mail on election day, many counties, especially large ones like Philadelphia, were unable to complete the count until that night. In fact, the countdown in Philadelphia took four more days. Prompted by Trump’s campaign statements, the demonstrators went to the counting centers and election commissions, demanding that they “Stop theft” and stop counting what they inaccurately described as illegal ballots.

In 2021, State MP Seth Grove, chairman of the state’s Republican Government Committee, proposed a bill that gives election officials five days to pre-campaign ballots by mail. The bill was passed by both houses, but because it also included unrelated provisions, including the Voter Certificate Act, the Democratic Governor Tom Wolfe vetoed it.

Since then, the proposal has not appeared in the legislature, either as a separate bill or in a new package of electoral legislation. Grove says Republicans will not try again until Wolf’s term as governor ends.

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