A total of 107,051 Lancaster County registered voters applied for and were approved to cast a mail-in ballot for this year’s general election, the county elections office announced after the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline.
That amounts to about 30% of registered voters in the county — a record-breaking share, as voters are motivated by newly loosened rules on who can apply as well as concerns about in-person voting during the COVID-19 epidemic.
More than 3 million Pennsylvania voters applied to vote by mail, a third of the state’s 9 million registered voters. Of those who applied to vote by mail, 57% of those ballots have been returned to their county, according to the Department of State, Pennsylvania’s elections agency. About 1.9 million of state mail-in applicants are Democrats, while about 760,000 are Republicans and 350,000 are registered independents or third-party voters.
In Lancaster County, 53,304 Democrats and 39,207 Republicans were approved for mail-in ballots. Of those, the county elections office said it had already received 39,756 completed ballots from Democrats, and 23,718 from Republicans. With independent or third-party voters added, the county has received 72,098 mail-in ballots as of Tuesday evening.
Almost half of the county’s 114,000 registered Democrats applied to vote by mail, with a third of those votes already returned to the elections office.
Just 22% of Republicans voters applied for mail-in ballots, but the party enjoys a 65,00-voter registration lead in the county, and party officials expect most to vote in-person on Election Day.
Voters who went to the county elections office on Tuesday faced a 90-minute wait at times. As many as 200 people waited during the middle part of the day, with a line extending outside and around the county government building.
“Holy guacamole!” yelled David Maston, of Denver, as he continued to walk through the building, trying to find the end of the line.
Many who lined up said they were there to cast their vote, another perk of a 2019 law that allows voters to request a mail-in ballot in person, fill it out and return it immediately.
While Tuesday was the last day to apply for a mail-in ballot, voters have until 8 p.m. on Election Day to return it — either by dropping it off in person at the county building in Lancaster, or mailing with a clearly visible pre-8 p.m. postmark. (Ballots mailed at the last minute will be counted if they are received by close of business on the Friday after the election, though the state Republican Party is suing to block the counting of any ballot received after 8 p.m.. Nov. 3.)
Patrick St. Clair, 92, of Mount Joy, said he spent at least an hour and a half waiting to vote at the Lancaster County Government Center.
“I spent more time here than I did voting the last 50 years,” St. Clair said shortly after sealing his mail ballot envelope to submit.
Yvonne and Andy Hershey took the afternoon off from work to vote and had hoped to grab lunch after what they thought would be a quick stop at the elections office. But the couple decided to wait it out to make sure they received a ballot.
“I just wanted to get it done early, and I didn’t feel that comfortable sticking it in the mail,” Yvonne Hershey said. “I probably don’t have to worry about (voting by mail), but I do.”
Several people in line said they were there to address problems that caused their mail-in ballot to be misdirected or delayed.
Veronica Bell, of West Lampeter Township, said she received an email from the Department of State that her ballot was mailed to her address on Oct. 6. She hasn’t received it yet, she said.
Bell wanted to make sure she was able to cast her ballot because she said the nation “needs a change.”
Theliash Hutson, a junior at Franklin & Marshall College, said her ballot was mailed to her family’s home in New York with the incorrect spelling of her name and address. She came Tuesday to have the elections board void the first ballot and reissue one with the correct information.
Her friend Max Sano, a fellow junior at the college who was with Hutson, said he spent at least four hours on Tuesday at the government building to help friends through the “confusing” voting process and ensure they were able to cast their vote.
Maria Cosa, 73, likes to vote in person. But the Lancaster city resident figured it would be more convenient for her to cast her vote at the government building rather than head to the polls on Election Day.
“I want to just do it and get it over with,” she said.