‘There’s a sense of urgency:’ Many Pa. voters are hand-delivering their mail-in ballots

Some county election offices have extended their hours to meet demand.

  • Brett Sholtis/Transforming Health
  • Emily Previti

Be patient: Results of the Nov. 3 election in Pennsylvania, and across the country, likely won’t be known for days. Here’s how WITF’s newsroom will cover election night and beyond.

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(Harrisburg) — Robin Roberts’ employer gives her Columbus Day off, so she turned it into her own personal Election Day.

Roberts said she likes voting in person, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, she applied for a mail-in ballot this year. She trusts the postal service, but liked the feeling of handing her ballot directly to the Dauphin County Board of Elections.

“This election is historic,” Roberts said. “There’s a sense of urgency that I haven’t felt before.”

She was just one of the half-dozen voters within a span of a few minutes Monday morning who walked, mail-in ballot in hand, through the rain into the Dauphin County Bureau of Elections office.

One voter who declined to give her full name said she’s afraid Trump and other Republicans are laying the groundwork to contest the election, or are trying to rig it.

President Trump has repeatedly made false or misleading claims about mail-in voting. Trump also has said that he opposed adding funding to the U.S. Postal Service so that it would be more difficult for the federal agency to deliver mail-in ballots.

An employee of the Philadelphia Commissioners Office examines ballots at a satellite election office at Overbrook High School on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, in Philadelphia. The city of Philadelphia has opened several satellite election offices and more are slated to open in the coming weeks where voters can drop off their mail in ballots before Election Day.

Laurence Kesterson / AP Photo

An employee of the Philadelphia Commissioners Office examines ballots at a satellite election office at Overbrook High School on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, in Philadelphia. The city of Philadelphia has opened several satellite election offices where voters can drop off their mail in ballots before Election Day.

There’s a sharp divide between Republicans and Democrats’ use of mail-in ballots in Dauphin County. Of the more than 20,000 ballots received as of Oct. 14, more than 14,000 are from registered Democrats, while just over 4,300 are from Republicans, according to county data.

Those numbers scale across Pennsylvania. As of Oct. 14, more than a half-million Pennsylvanians have returned their ballots, according to state data shared by the U.S. Elections Project. Seventy-six percent of those mail-in ballots came from registered Democrats, while just 16 percent came from Republicans.

Mike and Linda Kanoff are two of those Democrats. Because Linda is going through cancer treatment, and is at higher risk for getting sick with COVID-19, they decided to vote by mail this year.

However, Mike Kanoff said he was angry that state Republicans oppose allowing mailed ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 that arrive after Election Day to be counted. Although the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled ballots count if they’re received by Friday, Nov. 6, Republicans have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the case and consider overturning the state court’s decision.

So, the Kanoffs decided to turn in their ballots in person.

Linda and Mark Kanoff stand for a portrait outside of the Dauphin County Board of Elections office in Harrisburg Mon., Oct. 12, 2020. They applied for mail-in ballots this year because Linda is in treatment for cancer and is at higher risk for getting sick with COVID-19. They hand-delivered their ballots.

Brett Sholtis / WITF

Linda and Mark Kanoff stand for a portrait outside of the Dauphin County Board of Elections office in Harrisburg Mon., Oct. 12, 2020. They applied for mail-in ballots this year because Linda is in treatment for cancer and is at higher risk for getting sick with COVID-19. They hand-delivered their ballots.

Mike Kanoff said President Trump is trying to stop Democrats from casting their ballots.

“He wants to be a dictator,” Kanoff said. “If he would actually win this election, democracy in this country is over. It’s done. It’s finished.”

Dauphin County elections officials have been so busy, they have extended their hours at the Northern Dauphin Human Services Center, staying open until 8 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday starting next week.

“Since we opened the ballot return site in Elizabethville, about 35 people a day have taken advantage of the service,” said Commissioner Mike Pries in an email. “As Election Day gets closer, we want to give voters more options to conveniently and safely cast their ballot.”

In nearby Cumberland County, the elections office has extended its hours to meet demand as well. County spokeswoman Samantha Krepps pointed out that people have until Oct. 27 to apply for mail-in ballots. People who wait that long will face a tight deadline to turn them in.

“We wanted to afford these voters the opportunity to have the time to drop off their voted ballots,” Krepps said.

Montour, Lancaster and Northampton counties will offer dropoff at county election headquarters on some evenings or weekends, too.

Republican-dominated Lycoming, Mifflin, Blair and Columbia counties’ election directors say they’ve noticed a lot of walk-in traffic from voters hand-delivering mailed ballots.

“People don’t trust mailing in their ballots, and I can’t blame them,” Lycoming election director Forrest Lehman said Tuesday. “We are seeing typical delivery times. Two to seven days, mostly in the three- to four-day range. But people don’t want to leave it to chance.”

Processed mail-in ballots are seen at the Chester County Voter Services office in West Chester, Pa., prior to the primary election, Thursday, May 28, 2020.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Processed mail-in ballots are seen at the Chester County Voter Services office in West Chester, Pa., prior to the primary election, Thursday, May 28, 2020.

Getting ballots into the hands of election officials sooner won’t do much to expedite counting in Pa., though, unless something changes in the near future.

Current law bars counties from counting the ballots until Election Day, though state Democrats are pushing to change that rule so that people know the outcome of the Nov. 3 election sooner.

The House passed a bill in August that includes a Saturday, Oct. 31, start for pre-canvassing. But House Bill 2626 also includes some non-starters for Democrats (such as loosening residency rules for poll watchers so they can work anywhere in the state). The measure hasn’t moved in more than a month from the state Senate Appropriations Committee.

Despite closed-door discussions since then, compromise remained elusive as of Thursday afternoon.

“Our door’s open, but the governor hasn’t put something in front of us that we can get through our caucus,” said Jason Gottesman, spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff.

Lawmakers return to session Monday.

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