We’re just two days away from Election Day. More than 9 million Pennsylvanians have registered to vote in this year’s election; more than 3 million requested mail-in ballots; and, as of Thursday morning, 2.1 million mail ballots had been returned to county elections offices across the commonwealth. Democratic challenger Joe Biden hopes to wrest the White House from incumbent Republican President Donald Trump. Other contests include the races for state attorney general, state auditor general and state treasurer; the 11th Congressional District race; and several state General Assembly races. As of Thursday, the county reported that 76,582 mail-in ballots have been received of the 108,925 sent out. Lancaster County voters registered for this election: 354,296.
It has been the longest presidential campaign in the longest-ever year, but we’re nearly — finally — at the finish line.
Of course, who actually wins the race may not be known for a few days after Election Day, unless there’s a landslide and The Associated Press calls a result Tuesday night.
But no one should be surprised if that does not happen. Or particularly alarmed.
As former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican who served as this nation’s first Homeland Security secretary, tweeted Thursday: “Election Day is the last day to VOTE — not the last day for the vote to be counted. Delayed results mean our dedicated election officials are counting ballots ... it does NOT mean fraud. Let’s be patient, America!”
Some counties have signaled that they won’t be able to count mail-in ballots on Election Day.
Mike Wereschagin is a reporter for The Caucus, an LNP Media Group watchdog publication. Carter Walker covers county government for LNP | LancasterOnline.
As they reported Friday, “At least seven counties plan to hold off on counting mail-in ballots until Nov. 4, a day after state law allows the process to begin, according to data compiled by political analyst Ben Forstate.”
The reason? In some cases, “local officials say they won’t have the manpower to open tens of thousands of envelopes and check voters’ signatures while simultaneously staffing polling places for in-person voting.”
Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s chief elections official, wants every county to begin counting mail-in ballots on Election Day.
As Wereschagin and Walker reported, “the decisions by some counties to postpone the mail-in count has fed fears the delay could give Republicans — in particular, President Donald Trump’s campaign — time to undermine the election results or use the courts to stop vote counting altogether.”
But election watchdogs say they’ve been anticipating a delay in this state’s final vote tally.
As Ray Murphy, state coordinator for Keystone Votes, a voting reform advocacy group, told Wereschagin and Walker: “What matters is that counties count the votes transparently and as quickly as they can.”
We will know which presidential candidate has secured Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes — we might just need to wait a few days.
“We have a process that does work,” Randall O. Wenger, chief clerk of the Lancaster County Board of Elections, told LNP | LancasterOnline’s Gillian McGoldrick. “The process will produce an accurate result.”
In Lancaster County, 150 county staffers, temporary workers and volunteers will begin removing ballots from envelopes at 7 a.m. Tuesday so the ballot scanners can count the mail-in votes received by this weekend. (Ballots that arrive Monday and Tuesday will be counted Wednesday, Wenger said.)
Kudos to Wenger and other county officials for hiring extra staff to complete the count as quickly and as effectively as possible.
Deliver your ballot
If you still haven’t returned your completed mail-in ballot, hand-deliver it to the Lancaster County Board of Elections, or put it in the drop box in the Lancaster County Government Center at 150 N. Queen St. in downtown Lancaster.
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. Monday. On Election Day, the lobby — and county elections board office — will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m., which is when polling places also will be open.
If you requested and received a mail-in ballot but now want to vote at your polling place, here’s what you need to do, 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.”
Voting in person
If you’re planning to vote at your polling place Tuesday, be prepared to wait in line, though hopefully the volume of mail-in voting will thin Election Day lines.
Bring a bottle of water, snacks, a portable charger for your phone and something to read (this newspaper perhaps). Dress for comfort.
Above all, wear a mask, as masks will be strongly encouraged in polling places. Bring your own blue or black pen as an added safety measure. Maintain safe social distances.
And please be patient.
County employees have been gearing up for this for months.
As a profile of Wenger in last Sunday’s LNP | LancasterOnline revealed, the county’s chief elections official is known to his staff as a “taskmaster” who pays keen attention to details. He and his staff are prepared for Election Day, with new equipment and a full contingent of volunteers.
Indeed, Wenger said that not only has Lancaster County fully staffed its polling places, but it has more volunteers than volunteer positions. “These are people who truly believe in this,” he told LNP | LancasterOnline’s McGoldrick.
Pat Noel, who was interviewed by McGoldrick, is among those volunteers. She and her husband have been volunteering at the county elections office for weeks, and will be at the Lancaster County Convention Center on Tuesday, processing mail-in ballots.
“I knew there would be a tremendous amount of work that needed to be done (this year) and my husband did too,” Noel said. “We should appreciate that we live in a democracy and help in whatever ways we can do that.”
How great is that?
We are deeply grateful to Noel and her fellow volunteers, and to Wenger and his staff — as well as to the U.S. postal employees who have worked tirelessly, despite obstacles imposed by upper management, to deliver mountains of mail-in ballots.
We appreciate, too, everyone who will be staffing the polling places Tuesday.
Please help those folks by remaining calm come what may, and by taking COVID-19 precautions — masking up, sanitizing your hands — to help keep everyone safe.
And remember you are doing your part for democracy by voting.
If we need to wait for an accurate vote count, so be it. We’d just offer this caution: Any wait is likely to be tense, so please, choose only reliable news sources in the interim. Don’t rely on spurious social media posts for election result updates — there will be forces at work hoping to further rile anxious Americans.
We shouldn’t let them.