This year is the first year that Pennsylvanians are able to vote by mail. It’s a method that has not only been questioned by voters on social media, but even President Donald Trump.
Voting by mail was signed into law in Pennsylvania last October in an effort to increase voter participation.
This year, it is being strongly encouraged for folks to vote by mail because of the pandemic. COVID-19 has caused lower numbers of poll workers and a potential for longer lines at the polls because of safety guidelines. The question on a lot of minds though, is if you vote by mail, how can you be sure that your voted is safe and counted?
Just last week, President Trump questioned the security of mail-in voting saying, “The problem with the mail in ballot is that it is subject to tremendous corruption. Tremendous corruption. Cheating. So, I’m against it.”
If you look nationally, more people are using alternative voting methods. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the amount of people using alternative voting methods increased from 24.9 million in 2004 to 57.2 million in 2016, our most recent presidential election. This includes mail in, absentee, and early voting.
When we asked viewers on Facebook, we received over 2,000 comments with overwhelming responses of mistrust with the system. There were comments calling it “fraud” and claiming that “we would have no way to verify who is actually voting.”
On the other side, were people happy with the new option saying, “It’s about time Pennsylvania caught up. Mailing my ballot in today” and “I am so glad it is an option for us! I am immunity compromised and would not feel safe having to go vote in person.”
Many comments made it a partisan issue, though the final bill had support from both parties.
It passed in the senate with bi-partisan support, including all of our local senators.
When it was signed in to law last October , Act 77 included mail-in voting, funding to improve systems at the polls, and got rid of the vote straight party option.
But how does the mail-in process work? Deb Baughman, a Bedford County Commissioner and the Chairperson for county elections says it begins with the application that can be done online, mailed in, or even in person at the elections office.
“Once that application is filled out, doesn’t take long,” she explained, “A few minutes. And you return it here. That same day, we process it and mail out the ballot to your address of record.”
Each application has a bar code that is scanned. That alerts the system and the voter that it has been received.
The ballots also gets a bar code that identifies each voter. That makes sure that the vote is coming from you and prevents multiple votes from the same person.
Though it’s called “mail-in voting,” Baughman explains that it doesn’t have to involve the mail.
“You have a choice. You can drop it off here to this office. If you’d rather not use the post office, we have a secure ballot drop box at our entry point on the second floor or you can mail it in. From there it is all scanned, we follow your ballot, and even your application every step of the way. We have to verify it with the Department of State. We have to report it to the Department of State that is has been received.”
You can even make sure your ballot never leaves the office. Baughman details, “They can actually come into the office, they can fill out the application, wait a few minutes while we process it, and we will hand them their ballot. They can fill that out, put it in the mail-in envelope and can hand it directly back to us. Right in our office. We will process it immediately and secure it until the envelopes are opened on election night.”
Baughman also explains how the votes get counted. She says, “That is done in a public setting where representatives form each candidate, also the republican and democratic party, the members of the press are all invited to be able to see that process where the envelopes are opened and are put in a high speed scanner.”
That scanner creates an electronic record of the ballot to go along with the paper version.
No matter how you feel about mailing in your vote, it’s just an option. Commissioner Baughman says the most important choice a voter has, is choosing to vote. She says, “If you feel comfortable using mail-in, please do. If you want to go to the polls, do that. Whatever way you feel that you can best express yourself as a voter, that’s the way you should vote.”
For concerns about getting the wrong ballot or not getting it in on time, you can call your local elections offices or visit VotesPA.com. The deadline to apply is May 26 at 5pm. If you think it won’t arrive in time by mail, consider dropping it off to your county office.