State Sen. Steven Santarsiero, D-Bucks, questions Department of State officials during a budget hearing Thursday.
Counties told to prepare for avalanche of mailed-in ballots
State officials say counties should buy more scanners
Emily Previti/PA Post
In past presidential elections in Pennsylvania, about 5 percent of ballots were submitted by mail.
Those votes were cast under absentee ballot rules that required voters to provide a reason, such as work or illness, why they couldn’t make it to the polls in person.
But a new law signed last fall allows Pennsylvanians to submit their ballots by mail without an excuse. And that could mean lots more ballots being mailed this year — as much as 20 percent of the total vote in the fall general election, Department of State officials told lawmakers during the department’s budget hearing Thursday.
DoS has told counties to be prepared to handle an influx of mail-in ballots in time for the April 28 primary. What, exactly, does that entail?
Buy more scanners, for one, DoS Secretary Kathy Boockvar told legislators on Thursday, noting counties are eligible for partial reimbursement from the state for the costs of additional equipment.
State Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks) floated another possibility: Let counties start processing absentee and mailed ballots before polls close on Election Day.
Bucks County, for example, currently has two central scanners. Each costs $30,000 and can process about 3,500 ballots per hour. Assuming 20 percent of the county’s voters mail their ballots for the November election, it would take 10 hours for the county to get through them, Santarsiero said.
“Without having to buy another piece of equipment, they could get those 70,000 ballots counted in 10 hours if we allowed counting to begin when polls open,” Santarsiero said. “That’s something I think we, in the legislature, need to consider.”
Boockvar said Santarsiero’s idea could work in Pa., and noted that some states start counting four weeks before Election Day.
Given no one can predict how many votes will be returned by mail, Santarsiero said, the state and local elections officials would be wise to do both: Buy scanners and change the rules to permit counting to begin before Election Day.
“No one is going to know for sure until we get well into the fall exactly how many of these ballots we’re talking about,” Santarsiero said. “I think everyone assumes, probably accurately, that Pennsylvania is going to play … a pivotal role in this year’s presidential election. … It would not be good if we didn’t know until a day or two later what the outcome was because we didn’t have the capacity to count.” — Emily Previti
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