Time to Mail Those Ballots
October 7, 2020
There is no starting gun for an election season like there is for a track meet, but the closest we come in Pennsylvania is the official certification of the ballot by the Department of State.
That came late in the day on September 17, when Green Party candidates were tossed from the ballot, and the elections operations of sixty-seven counties began a sprint toward an Election Day like no other.
By now, more than two million ballots have been sent to Pennsylvania voters in the first general election in which it is widely permitted to vote by mail. At the same time, preparations are underway for an election in which every precinct will have a new machine since the 2018 election and a new set of precautions driven by Covid-19.
Election officials, party leaders, and candidates from both parties all repeat the same line about mail ballots: “I hope voters fill them in as soon as they get them.” There is universal dread about a late flood of ballots, with the confusion and controversy that seem certain to follow.
Pennsylvania election processes did get a bit of a shout-out in the first Presidential debate when President Trump complained that poll watchers appointed by his campaign were not permitted to monitor the temporary election offices set up around the city at which a citizen can register to vote, request a mail ballot (and if they see fit return it on the spot), or return the ballot they received in the mail. No serious person thinks that the law is on Trump’s side, but given the supercharged atmosphere of 2020 some informal accommodation probably ought to have been made to defuse tension.
A much odder story came from Luzerne County in northeastern Pennsylvania, where a handful of unopened ballots were found in an office wastebasket, apparently discarded by mistake by a temporary worker. Officials in the Republican-run county reached out to the Republican District Attorney to ensure that they were dealing with the situation appropriately. She in turn contacted the United States Attorney, who inexplicably ordered the ballots to be opened and discovered that in a county Trump carried by twenty points in 2016 several of the nine ballots were, in fact, for Trump and created the sort of mini-sensation craved by cable news and bloggers about a plot to steal votes.
The actual work going on in these unusual circumstances is far less dramatic: the overwhelming effort by candidates and their supporters cast their ballots, and of elections officials and others to ensure that things run smoothly.