Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania
This fall’s presidential election is coming
up quickly, and during every day leading up to Nov. 3, Pennsylvania’s county
leaders and election officials are hard at work preparing to administer an
impartial and accurate election. And what’s top of mind for them? Making sure
that voters can cast their votes, regardless of what type of ballot they use,
and that those votes are accurately counted according to law.
In June, Pennsylvania had its first experience
with mail-in ballots under Act 77 of 2019, although as a carbon copy of the
decades-old absentee process, just without the need for an excuse, it was also
a familiar experience. We knew mail-in ballots were going to be a popular
option, but because of COVID-19, the number of mail-in ballots far exceeded any
guesses we might have had some 1.4 million, or about 40% of all votes cast. Yet
despite the challenges, counties administered a primary election in these most
unique of circumstances as securely, efficiently and smoothly as they ever
With this first go-around of mail-in ballots
during the primary and the extraordinarily high demand due to the pandemic,
counties learned some valuable lessons about how we can assure November’s
general election – a presidential election in a battleground state with
anticipated high turnout – can deliver timely results without sacrificing
security or accuracy. This will require changes to the state law, though, and
time is quickly running out to enact those changes and still allow adequate
time for counties to successfully implement them.
In particular, as counties predicted, it was
an overwhelming prospect to process the sheer volume of mail-in ballots
entirely on election day, which involves verifying the voter’s information,
opening two envelopes for every ballot, and preparing the ballots to be
scanned. And of course, counties were also consumed with the critical tasks of
implementing a successful in-person election on June 2. As a result, many
counties were unable to finish counting mail-in ballots that same day.
If mail-in trends continue in November, the
number of ballots will be far too overwhelming for counties to process on Nov.
3 alone, and counties will face very real challenges in providing timely
results following the election.
As the experts in administering elections,
counties urge prompt action by the General Assembly to prioritize a few simple
changes to the law that will help them meet their goal of delivering timely and
accurate results to Pennsylvania citizens, and make sure that every vote
While we recognize that there are several
proposals to make changes to the Election Code, topping counties’ list of
procedural changes needed is allowing them as much time as possible, up to three
weeks before election day, to begin the time-consuming manual work of
pre-canvassing. This means simply processing and preparing mail-in ballots,
including removing them from their envelopes, so that the ballots can be
efficiently tabulated on Nov. 3.
Without the ability to pre-canvass prior to
election day, it may take days or even weeks until final election results are
known. Current law allows for pre-canvassing beginning at 7 a.m. on election
day, however, counties need to focus all of their efforts on running the
in-person election on Nov. 3 and will not likely be able to divert resources to
pre-canvassing mail-in ballots on that day. The more time counties have to
undertake this process, the better prepared they will be to administer a safe
in-person election and provide timely results.
Another change counties identified to
alleviate election day challenges is to move the deadline to apply for mail-in
ballots back from a week to two weeks before the election, providing more time
for the ballot to be able to get from the county to the voter and back again
through the mail. With postal delays and public health concerns, this deadline
shift will help both counties and voters by creating less uncertainty over
whether ballots were received in time. Voters will be able receive their
confirmation email and feel confident that their ballot was received, allowing
for more efficient polling place operations and aiding COVID-19 risk management
by reducing crowds.
Finally, counties call on all Pennsylvanians
to also do your part to make sure your vote is received and can be counted in a
timely fashion. If you plan to vote by mail-in ballot, now is the time to
submit your application, so that as soon as ballots are certified and
available, you’ll be able to receive your ballot as soon as possible. And then
make sure to return your completed ballot promptly to help mitigate the impacts
of potential delays.
Counties have the utmost confidence that all
of our voting systems are secure and that every Pennsylvanian’s vote will be
properly counted. With a few simple changes, we can help prevent Pennsylvania
from becoming a national news story as we wait on results and help counties
continue to honor their responsibility as the stewards of our democracy.
The County Commissioners Association of
Pennsylvania (CCAP) is the voice of county government; a statewide nonprofit,
nonpartisan association representing all 67 counties in Pennsylvania. CCAP
members include county commissioners, council members, county executives,
administrators, chief clerks and solicitors.
County governments are responsible for a wide
variety of critical services, including provision of human services (mental
health, intellectual disabilities, juvenile justice, children and youth,
long-term care, drug and alcohol services, housing) to people in need in our
communities. In addition, counties are responsible for emergency management and
911 services, administration of the courts and corrections system, elections,
maintenance of county bridges, and the county property assessment rolls, and
also are involved in environmental and land use planning, protection of open
space and community and economic development.
CCAP strengthens the counties’ abilities to
govern their own affairs and improve the well-being and quality of life for
every Pennsylvania resident. It advocates for favorable state and federal
legislation, programs and policies on behalf of counties. CCAP is committed to
service excellence through education, information, insurance, technology and
other programs that support effective county government. Founded in 1886, CCAP
is an affiliate of the National Association of Counties. For more information
about Pennsylvania counties and CCAP, log on to www.pacounties.org and follow @PACountiesGR on Twitter.