VotingLines

People are seen shuffling in and out of the Lancaster County Government Center on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. 

THE ISSUE

Election Day is just five days away. It is too late to request a mail-in ballot from the county elections office. And some election experts are advising against mailing ballots at this point because of U.S. Postal Service delays. The Postal Service itself advises voters to mail their ballots at least a week in advance of a state’s deadline.

You may be able to return your completed mail-in ballot via the U.S. Postal Service today.

But frankly, we think it would be safer to hand-deliver it to the Lancaster County Board of Elections at this point, or to put it in the drop box in the Lancaster County Government Center.

Mail delays happen, even when a partisan postmaster general isn’t trying to throw sand into the gears of postal operations.

And Pennsylvania Republicans are fighting to keep ballots that arrive after Election Day from being counted.

We understand their calculation in terms of raw politics. More Democrats than Republicans are voting by mail in this year’s election and Republicans are aiming to limit the Democratic vote however they can.

But we’re idealists here, starry-eyed defenders of democracy, and so we find it distressing that anyone would work to keep people’s votes from counting.

Some background: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 4-4 Oct. 19 to let stand a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that ballots postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day — or lacking clear evidence that they were mailed after Election Day — could be counted if they’re received by county elections officials by 5 p.m. Nov. 6, the Friday after the election.

Pennsylvania Republicans then asked the reconstituted U.S. Supreme Court — which now includes Justice Amy Coney Barrett — to disallow that three-day grace period for counting ballots. And they sought an expedited review of the matter.

Wednesday, the nation’s highest court rejected that “eleventh-hour plea,” Spotlight PA reported, but “left open the possibility that it will hear the case and that those votes might not ultimately be counted.” (Barrett did not take part in the decision.)

“The question presented by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision calls out for review by this court,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a statement (he was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch). “But I reluctantly conclude that there is simply not enough time at this late date to decide the question before the election.”

County elections officials have been directed to keep separate any mailed ballots that arrive after 8 p.m. Nov. 3.

Whatever ultimately happens, this much seems crystal-clear: You shouldn’t risk mailing your ballot at this point. Hand-deliver it.

That was the advice also given by Kathy Boockvar, secretary of the commonwealth and Pennsylvania’s top elections official, in a call with reporters Wednesday. “Cast it now, do not wait,” she said.

According to the Lancaster County Board of Elections, 107,051 ballots had been mailed to county voters as of Tuesday, the deadline for applying for mail-in ballots.

As LNP | LancasterOnline reported, “That amounts to about 30% of registered voters in the county — a record-breaking share.”

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. ... 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, 72,098 completed ballots had been received by county elections officials as of Tuesday evening.

That means that nearly 35,000 mail ballots had not.

If you still have your mail-in ballot, please complete it and consider driving or walking to the county Board of Elections, which is housed in the Lancaster County Government Center, 150 N. Queen St. (not South Queen, North Queen).

The county has placed a ballot drop box in that facility’s Chestnut Street entrance lobby, just before the security station.

The lobby will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and Monday. It will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

And on Election Day, the lobby — and county elections board office — will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.

If you requested a mail-in ballot but now want to vote at your polling place, here’s the drill, according to the county website:

“You may bring your ballot with the return envelope to the polling location to surrender to the Judge of Election and vote a regular ballot. If you do not have your ballot, you may vote provisionally. Provisional ballots will then be scanned by the Lancaster County Board of Elections to ensure that a completed ballot was not previously received.”

As we’ve noted before, this strikes us as a bit of a hassle, for both voters and Election Day staff, so we’d recommend you complete your mail-in ballot and drop it off at the county government building downtown.

The most important thing, however, is that you vote.

If you’re planning to cast your ballot the old-fashioned way — at your polling place on Election Day — please make sure you’re prepared to wait, should there be lines.

Bring a bottle of water and some snacks. Bring a book in case your phone battery dies (or bring a phone charger). Bring an umbrella if it rains. Dress for comfort and the weather.

Above all, wear a mask. Masks will be strongly encouraged in polling places. Taking COVID-19 precautions — wearing masks, maintaining social distances and sanitizing one’s hands — will be the least voters can do to thank the poll workers braving the pandemic that day. (Bringing your own black or blue pen would be another good safety measure.)

We found the LNP | LancasterOnline images of voters lining up at the county government building to vote by mail-in ballot to be inspiring.

Long lines can be a sign that elections officials have made it harder for people to vote. But in this case, we think, they are a sign of the eagerness of voters to have their say. Our democracy was designed for that purpose. It’s a thrill to see people exercise their right to vote.