mail in ballots

Ninja Hadgu, left, and Deliyah Grimes process applications for mail-in ballots at the Lancaster County Board of Elections at 150 N. Queen St. in Lancaster city Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. Hadgu and Grimes are some of the temporary employees who are working the county's elections office.

THE ISSUE

Thirty-seven days remain before the presidential election on Nov. 3. Last week, President Donald Trump told reporters that he might not commit to a peaceful transition of power should Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden win the election. “We’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump said at a news conference. The Republican-led U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution Thursday reaffirming “the Senate’s commitment to the orderly and peaceful transfer of power called for in the Constitution of the United States.”

We are facing purposeful efforts to make us think that we won’t be able to trust the results of the Nov. 3 election.

We’re going to have to try to either tune out, or counter, those efforts. Because they’re aimed at undermining American democracy, and we shouldn’t allow that aim to be met.

President Trump said Thursday, “We want to make sure the election is honest, and I’m not sure that it can be.”

But it can be and it will be, and Lancaster County election officials — led by Randall O. Wenger — are working to ensure that voting here occurs smoothly, properly and securely. Wenger has led efforts to gear up for unprecedented numbers of mail-in ballots. County officials have added ballot-processing equipment and staff.

And the bottom line: Voter fraud is rare. This has been affirmed by countless election experts, as well as by FBI Director Christopher Wray and Republican election law expert Benjamin L. Ginsberg.

“The truth is,” Ginsberg wrote in a Washington Post op-ed earlier this month, “that after decades of looking for illegal voting, there’s no proof of widespread fraud. ... Elections are not rigged. Absentee ballots use the same process as mail-in ballots.”

As Mike Wereschagin of LNP Media Group’s The Caucus details today, we are likely to see a “ferocious battle” over the election results, and that may lead to post-election turmoil.

The forces working to foment chaos in November and undermine the integrity of the election are powerful. They’re seeking to destroy the very democracy that generations have fought to protect and preserve.

But we have some control over how things play out. We can register to vote and plan how we intend to cast our ballots — and choose trustworthy, accountable news sources, like LNP | LancasterOnline, in the days and weeks to come.

First things, first: Voter registration.

Get registered, get ready

There is still plenty of time to register to vote before the Nov. 3 election — the deadline is Monday, Oct. 19.

To vote in Pennsylvania, you must be 18 years old; a resident of the commonwealth at least 30 days before Nov. 3.; and a U.S. citizen at least one month before the election.

If you want to vote by mail — and Pennsylvania now offers no-excuse mail-in voting — you must apply for a mail ballot. Don’t heed anyone who disparages mail-in voting by claiming ballots are sent willy-nilly to everyone, dead or alive. In Pennsylvania, mail-in ballots must be requested using a valid driver’s license or Pennsylvania Department of Transportation ID.

Your completed application for a mail-in ballot must be received by the Lancaster County Board of Elections by 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27. But you would be aiding elections officials — and your own peace of mind — by applying for your mail ballot right away.

You can apply for a mail-in ballot online at votespa.com, or in person at the Lancaster County Board of Elections and Registration Commission at 150 N. Queen St. in downtown Lancaster.

If you provide your email address, you will receive notifications throughout the application and voting process.

Now to voting.

Voting process

You will be able to vote at your local polling place Nov. 3. But if you’re voting by mail, please take care to fill out your ballot and mail it back properly.

Wenger, Lancaster County’s chief elections official, said Friday that requested ballots will begin to be mailed this week and will begin arriving in voters’ mailboxes by Oct. 3.

You may have heard the recently expressed concerns about “naked ballots” in Pennsylvania. Here’s what that’s about.

Every ballot comes with two envelopes: an inner secrecy envelope and a postage-paid return envelope. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that ballots returned without the secrecy envelope — and thus “naked” — may be rejected by county election officials.

Obviously, you don’t want this to happen to your ballot.

The secrecy envelope is marked: “Official Election Ballot.”

So put your completed ballot first into the secrecy envelope, and then put the secrecy envelope into the postage-paid return envelope (also known as the “declaration envelope”).

The return envelope will be marked with a “Voter’s declaration” that you must sign or mark, and date, so your signature can be verified by county elections officials.

You can mail your ballot or drop it off at the county elections office. In keeping with the recent state Supreme Court ruling, Lancaster County elections officials have decided to provide a ballot drop box in the Chestnut Street entrance lobby of the Lancaster County Government Center. The lobby will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Extended hours, until 8 p.m., will be in effect on Oct. 28, Oct. 29 and Nov. 2. And the lobby will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31. On Election Day, the lobby and election office will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Please complete and return your completed mail-in ballot promptly after receiving it.

The controversies

The Democratic-majority state Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that ballots received by county election officials by 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6 — three days after Election Day — still may be counted, as long as they’re postmarked by Nov. 3 or don’t show any evidence of being mailed after Election Day.

Republicans asked the state Supreme Court to put a hold on that particular ruling; the court rejected that request Thursday. Now the matter seems likely to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even as this argument was roiling, the U.S. Department of Justice issued an unorthodox news release Thursday stating that an investigation was underway into the improper handling of nine military ballots — most of them marked for President Trump — in Luzerne County.

It is “quite improper to announce the fact of an inquiry,” Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, told NPR. “And grotesquely improper to announce whom the ballots were cast for, as if that mattered in the investigation.”

The concern was that Trump’s Justice Department was seeking to encourage the president’s narrative about voter fraud to undermine the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election.

David Thornburgh, president and CEO of the nonpartisan government watchdog group Committee of Seventy, told reporter Katie Meyer of WHYY in Philadelphia that “we have to be careful not to extrapolate from single-digit incidents to more systemic problems.”

Thornburgh is the son of former Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Dick Thornburgh (who also served as U.S. attorney general). We’d urge readers to heed David Thornburgh’s advice.

A DOJ letter to Luzerne County election officials noted that “the envelopes used for official overseas, military, absentee and mail-in ballot requests are so similar," and the ballots were discarded by mistake. This appears to be a case of employee error, not a fraudulent scheme.

These next five weeks are going to be turbulent and stressful. But we can, and must, resist efforts to undermine American democracy — from whatever direction they come. We can do so by registering to vote as soon as possible, applying for a mail-in ballot if we want one as soon as possible, and planning how we intend to cast our ballots.

And, as Congressman Lloyd Smucker said last week, according to the York Dispatch: “Regardless of party, all Americans must accept the results of the election once they are certified.”