Election Day turnout 8

Voters line up before 8 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, at Lafayette Elementary School in Lancaster city.

THE ISSUE

Election Day 2020 is over, though ballots continue to be counted in Lancaster County and throughout Pennsylvania. The deadline for certifying the results in the commonwealth is Nov. 23, though Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s top elections official, told Spotlight PA recently that she expects the “overwhelming majority” of votes in this state to be counted by Friday.

It’s all over but the shouting, so the saying goes, though we’re hoping the shouting quiets soon, too, along with the incessant campaign ads that have been filling our airwaves and social media accounts for months.

This editorial necessarily went to bed — that’s newspaper jargon for going to press — before the first results came in Tuesday night. The Opinion department sought to wrap up its work early so the copy desk could devote its resources to editing election result coverage.

But we did feel the need to say something today, and it’s this: Tuesday, Americans cast their final ballots in a brutally contentious election, and for all the sound and fury of this year’s campaign, for all the ugliness and anger, democracy remains a beautiful thing.

As Winston Churchill — whose mother was born in the U.S. — famously said, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

And yes, we know, sticklers insist that the United States is technically a republic — Benjamin Franklin’s own unforgettable quote reminds us of that — but the democratic practice of voting is the essential duty of living in a republic. In the United States, voting is both a rite and a right. We’ll always be inspired by the mere fact of Americans lining up to cast their ballots to have their say. We know people in other nations don’t have the same right.

We’ve watched with sadness and admiration as the people of the Eastern European nation of Belarus, for instance, have turned out in huge numbers, day after day since August, to protest the rigged election of authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, who is desperately attempting to cling to the power he’s held for 26 years by cracking down on protesters. In places such as Hong Kong and Tanzania, democracy is under siege.

The desire for true democracy is embedded deep in the human spirit. We’re so fortunate in the United States that this is the system our founders created for us.

And we’re so heartened by the fact that so many Lancaster County residents turned out to vote Tuesday, some waiting in long lines. And a record-high number of county residents voted by mail in the weeks and days leading up to Election Day.

Journalists in the news department of LNP | LancasterOnline were dispatched around the county Tuesday to chronicle the action as county residents cast their ballots at polling places including St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manheim Township, Crispus Attucks Community Center in Lancaster city, the Elizabeth Township municipal building and the Bowmansville Fire Hall in Brecknock Township.

They wrote of volunteers with the Latino and immigration rights advocacy organization CASA who were helping to ensure Latinos could vote without problems. They wrote of a nurse, Suzanne Adkins, who was working as a first-time greeter at the Leacock Township polling site in Intercourse, because of her concerns about COVID-19.

And even when they were casting their own ballots, this newspaper’s staffers were doing some reporting. Laura Eckert Thompson, LNP | LancasterOnline’s sports editor, noted on Twitter that she was the 134th person to vote at her West Hempfield Township polling place shortly after 8 a.m. “Took about 55 minutes to get through the line and wrap things up. ... But always worth it.”

Indeed.

Even where there were long lines Tuesday morning, county voters seemed to maintain their sense of humor. LNP | LancasterOnline’s Alex Geli reported that shortly after a woman carrying a baby got in line at one polling place, “the others let her go in front of them. ‘I should’ve brought a baby,’ one woman said.”

We found this encouraging, too: Geli interviewed county resident Karen Bennett and her brother-in-law, Mark Bennett. They said they weren’t voting for the same candidates, but they get along just fine. And they were cheered by the turnout, too.

“It’s wonderful that so many care about the election,” Karen Bennett said.

It is indeed wonderful.

We hope more people follow the Bennetts’ example. We understand that a significant percentage of Americans will be disappointed by the election’s outcome. But at some point, we have to find our way past the anger and division to reciprocal respect and compassion. We need to find some shared sense of what it means to be American in 2020, and how we can live with one another even when we disagree.

This will be even more vital as we deal with the ongoing deadly COVID-19 pandemic and the difficult recovery that will follow.

Election Day logistics

Thanks again to everyone who braved the pandemic to work the polls Tuesday. We saw the images of poll workers sanitizing tables in between voters, and we thank those workers for helping to keep people safe.

Another positive was this Tuesday morning tweet from county Commissioner Josh Parsons: “At our mail ballot counting operation we have sheriff’s deputies for security, observers from both parties/campaigns, multiple attorneys & credentialed media in the room. Completely transparent. I hope all PA counties are doing the same.”

We hope so, too — and kudos to Lancaster County officials for their commitment to transparency. Such transparency is imperative, as it helps voters to trust the process.

We were dismayed, however, by the decision of the Lancaster County Board of Elections to delay counting mail-in ballots that were postmarked by Election Day but didn’t arrive by that day.

County Commissioner Craig Lehman is correct in his assertion that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that ballots received in the three-day period after Election Day must be counted, as long as they show no evidence of having been sent after Tuesday. The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently denied a GOP request for an expedited review of that state ruling.

State elections officials asked that those ballots be kept separate from the other mail-in ballots, but Secretary of the Commonwealth Boockvar has said they should be counted nevertheless.

Every vote legitimately cast must be counted. That is the expectation of voters when they cast their ballots. That is the part of the underpinning of democracy.

County elections officials: Please count those votes.