Secrecy envelope

A secrecy envelope lies atop a Lancaster County ballot for the Nov. 3, 2020, general election. A ballot mailed without its secrecy envelope (and thus "naked") will be discarded by election officials.

THE ISSUE

As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Carter Walker reported in last Sunday’s edition, Lancaster County elections officials expect “the biggest vote-by-mail turnout in the county’s history” in the Nov. 3 general election. Wrote Walker: “Voting by mail is new to most voters this year, the result of COVID-19 concerns leading more voters than ever to make use of a 2019 law that made it easier to request mail-in ballots.” More than 90,000 mail-in ballots have been mailed to Lancaster County voters; county elections officials expect to receive 120,000 absentee and mail-in ballot applications for the Nov. 3 election.

Not everyone will enjoy a new online video featuring celebrities — including comedians Chris Rock, Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman, and actors Tiffany Haddish, Josh Gad and Mark Ruffalo — appearing in their birthday suits to warn voters about naked ballots.

It certainly drives home the point, though we preferred the how-to-vote video starring Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

You’ve likely heard the phrase “naked ballots” by now. As Franklin & Marshall College assistant professor Brandon Koenig writes in today’s Perspective section, naked ballots could become 2020 Pennsylvania’s version of Florida’s “hanging chads” in 2000.

No one wants that. We urge you to help make sure that doesn’t happen.

We explained the naked ballot brouhaha in our Sept. 27 editorial, but really want to make sure that all votes are counted so we’re revisiting the issue today.

So here goes, again.

Every ballot comes with an inner secrecy envelope and a postage-paid return envelope.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last month that ballots returned without the secrecy envelope — and thus “naked” — must be rejected by county elections officials.

Don’t let that happen to your ballot.

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

So put your completed ballot first into the secrecy envelope.

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 fill out and sign, so your signature can be verified by county elections officials.

Randall O. Wenger, chief clerk of the Lancaster County Board of Elections, worked with LNP | LancasterOnline’s Tyler Huber to produce an excellent and clear how-to video on voting by mail. We encourage you to view it. We appreciate the time Wenger took to take voters carefully through the vote-by-mail process.

If you plan to vote by mail, and haven’t yet applied for a mail-in ballot, please don’t wait. If you have a valid Pennsylvania driver’s license or Pennsylvania Department of Transportation ID — and you’re registered to vote — you can apply online right now at votespa.com. (Provide your email address and you’ll receive notifications throughout the application and voting process.)

County elections officials urge voters to apply online for their mail-in ballots, but you also can apply in person at the Lancaster County Board of Elections and Registration Commission at 150 N. Queen St. in downtown Lancaster.

Please don’t procrastinate. You have until 5 p.m. Oct. 27 to apply for a mail-in ballot, but the last thing elections officials need is a last-minute deluge of applications.

If you’re still waiting for your ballot, don’t panic. You can check your ballot status online here. And the county elections board, led by Wenger, has prepared well for this election. If you requested a ballot properly, it will come. If you’re worried you may have made some error, call the county elections board at 717-299-8293.

Once you receive your mail-in ballot, fill it out carefully using a black or blue pen. This is not the time to express yourself using your favorite hue — black or blue ink only, please.

You can mail your completed ballot or drop it off at the county elections office. You cannot drop off your mother’s ballot, or your husband’s ballot — you only can drop off your own.

In keeping with a recent state Supreme Court ruling, Lancaster County elections officials have provided 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 mail-in ballot promptly after receiving it. Completed mail-in ballots must be received by county elections officials, or at least postmarked, by 8 p.m. Election Day.

Again, helping to minimize any last-minute mail-in voting frenzy should be the aim of all of us.

County officials need help

State lawmakers need to do their part — without further delay.

For months, county elections officials have been imploring lawmakers to allow them to “precanvass” mailed ballots before 7 a.m. on Election Day.

Counties including Lancaster have purchased new ballot processing equipment. They’ve hired additional staff. They’ve done everything expected of them.

Now they need an assist — and soon — from the state Legislature. Just 23 days remain before Nov. 3, and there are only a few session days on the legislative calendar. Lawmakers need to cease bickering over partisan power plays and address the precanvassing issue.

This is how state law defines precanvassing: “the inspection and opening of all envelopes containing official absentee ballots or mail-in ballots, the removal of such ballots from the envelopes and the counting, computing and tallying of the votes reflected on the ballots. The term does not include the recording or publishing of the votes reflected on the ballots.” (The italics are ours.)

To put it simply, elections officials simply will not be able to handle the crush of mailed ballots, and tabulate them in a timely fashion, if they can’t start the process before the polls open.

As we noted in August, Republican lawmakers have been amenable to allowing county officials to open envelopes, verify each voter and signature, and prepare ballots to be scanned — but not actually count them ahead of time.

The suggestion we made in August still holds: “We’d suggest they trust county officials to do what they say they need to do carefully and confidentially.”

As Republican former state representative and current Bucks County Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo told Spotlight PA, “This is not a partisan issue. This does not give an advantage to the Democrats nor an advantage to the Republicans.” It just would allow “the counties to avert an awful lot of confusion.”

The Associated Press reported last week that “House Republicans held an internal conference call to discuss the idea of giving counties four or five days to process mail-in ballots before Election Day.”

State House Speaker Bryan Cutler: Please make sure this effort succeeds. The sheer volume of people who will vote at their polling places Nov. 3 — or by Nov. 3 by mail — guarantees there will be some confusion. But the longer it takes county elections officials to count votes, the more opportunity there will be for doubt to be cast on the election’s legitimacy.

Voting is a sacred obligation of citizens in our republic. Ensuring that elections are run well is a sacred obligation of elected officials. They need to fulfill that obligation.