Today is Election Day. In Pennsylvania, polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. More than 82,500 of the county’s nearly 354,300 registered voters had already voted even before Monday’s batch of mail-in ballots was delivered to the county elections office, according to county and state data. Mail-in ballots must be returned today, preferably by hand-delivering them either to the Lancaster County Board of Elections in the Lancaster County Government Center at 150 N. Queen St. in downtown Lancaster, or to the drop-off box in that facility’s Chestnut Street entrance lobby, just before the security station. The lobby — and county elections board office — will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. today. If you requested and received a mail-in ballot but now want to vote at your polling place, the county website says you should “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.”
We may not know the presidential election results tonight. That shouldn’t alarm us.
As former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican who served as this nation’s first Homeland Security secretary, tweeted last week: “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!”
As a culture, we’re not great at being patient; we’ve grown accustomed to fast food, swift internet communication and instant gratification.
But with the volume of mail-in ballots cast this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we may need to slow our roll and be patient, as Gov. Ridge exhorted.
As LNP | LancasterOnline Executive Editor Tom Murse wrote in Sunday’s edition, mail ballots that arrived at the county elections office Monday and those that arrive today won’t be counted until after Election Day. And “because more Democratic voters than Republican voters here obtained mail ballots, the early results might skew in favor of Republican candidates,” he wrote.
We need to wait for the final count.
A delayed final count does not mean something sketchy is going on. If a candidate declares victory before the count is completed, regard it as the ploy that it is.
Before we get to that point, however, a great many people still need to cast their ballots. This advice is for those going to their polling places today.
You have rights as a voter. You have the right not to be subjected to intimidation, first of all.
According to the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law School, “Multiple federal statutes make it a crime to intimidate voters: it is illegal to intimidate, threaten, or coerce a person, or attempt to do so, ‘for the purpose of interfering with’ that person’s right ‘to vote or to vote as he may choose.’ ”
The examples of voter intimidation cited by the institute include “confronting voters while wearing military-style or official-looking uniforms”; “spreading false information about voter fraud, voting requirements, or related criminal penalties”; blocking the entrances to polling places; aggressively questioning voters about their qualifications to vote.
If someone tries to dissuade you from voting, or frighten you away from your polling place, report it to elections officials at the polling place.
If you’re threatened with violence, call 911.
We don’t expect this to happen in Lancaster County — such behavior would be unthinkable for most county residents. It’s not our style to be rude and aggressive. Nevertheless, keep the following phone numbers at hand.
If you have any problems or questions today while trying to vote, call the Election Protection Hotline.
For English speakers, that number is 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683); for Spanish speakers, 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (1-888-839-8682); for Arabic speakers, 1-844-YALLA-US (1-844-925-5287); for Asian-language speakers, 1-888-API-VOTE (1-888-274-8683); and for those who communicate in American sign language: 301-818-VOTE (301-818-8683).
If the lines are long and 8 p.m. nears, remain in line — as long as you’re in line, you have the right to vote, no matter how long it takes.
— If you make a mistake on your ballot, ask for a new one.
— If a poll worker says your name is not on the list of registered voters, ask for a provisional ballot. Elections officials later will check to ensure you are registered.
— If you’re not in the poll book, you may be at the wrong polling place. Ask an elections official to check for you; you also can call 1-866-OUR-VOTE and ask for help. Or check the state site (bit.ly/PollPlaceSearch).
In the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, prepare for long lines. Bring a snack and a water bottle. Bring a portable phone charger or something to read. Bring your own black or blue pen as a protection against the novel coronavirus. Wear a face mask to protect your fellow voters and the poll workers who braved a pandemic to ensure you could cast a ballot in person today.
Be kind to those poll workers. They have signed up for a difficult job. Thank them if you feel so moved.
And as you wait for election results, please choose reliable sources of information such as LNP | LancasterOnline.
A veteran journalist on this newspaper’s staff, Jed Kensinger, “has monitored the vote tabulation process and collected Lancaster County’s real-time results for this news organization and (The Associated Press) for more than a quarter century,” Murse wrote Sunday.
And Kensinger will be back at it tonight, watching from the sidelines as, in his own words, “the first judge of elections hand-delivers the electronic data card containing his or her precinct results, along with supporting paper documentation, to the county ... until after the last precinct judge shows up with the results.”
Kensinger has established himself as a fierce champion of government transparency in Lancaster County. He’s a good person for this job.
As for you, once you’re home from the polls, settle in for what may be a long night — and long week. And have faith, as we do, in democracy.