Election officials in Pennsylvania prepare for surge in mail-in ballots

Bucks County Board of Elections officials anticipate at least 50% of voters will vote by mail

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DOYLESTOWN, Pa. — The presidential election is less than eight weeks away and all eyes are on battleground states like Pennsylvania.

“We’re a swing county in a swing state,” said Bucks County Commissioner Bob Harvie.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won Bucks County by nearly 2,700 votes, less than 1%.

Bucks County Board of Elections officials anticipate at least 50% of voters will vote by mail in the 2020 election.

“Back in 2016 during the primary, we had roughly 6,000 absentee ballots applied for. During this past primary we had about 100,000. So, it’s a drastic increase,” said Thomas Freitag, Bucks County’s Board of Elections director.

Bucks County Board of Elections officials anticipate at least 50 percent of voters will vote by mail in the 2020 election.

Bucks County Board of Elections officials anticipate at least 50 percent of voters will vote by mail in the 2020 election.

Election officials hope to start sending ballots out in late September.

“What's mailed to them [voters] is the outer mailing envelope that we have, the ballot itself, a return envelope that has the voter's declaration they have to sign and a secrecy envelope,” said Freitag.

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MAIL-IN VOTING IN 2020

Several lawsuits, however, could slow down the process. A number of state and federal lawsuits have been filed questioning different parts of the election law, like secrecy envelopes.

“You know, there are concerns that when people mail back their ballots, whether it's absentee or mail-in, there are a couple different envelopes. One is the privacy for their own privacy, so their vote can remain secret. And then there's the mail-in envelope they actually have to have to sign, so that we can certify that it's actually them [who] was returning it,” Harvie said.

Pennsylvania is one of 16 states that require secrecy envelopes be provided to voters, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Pennsylvania, voters are instructed to sign the back of the secrecy envelope they receive when returning their ballot. Some, however, have forgotten that step in the past.

“If there's any mark or anything that could not link it back to the voter itself, then it should be not counted and set aside,” said Freitag.

Anna Edling, of Chalfont, remembers receiving hers when she voted by mail in the 2016 election.

“I knew what it was right away. It was official-looking and the instructions were very clear about what I was supposed to do,” said Edling.

She said she’s glad mail-in voting is an option and might do it again this year.

According to a recent poll from Quinnipiac University, 18 percent of republicans said they plan to vote by mail compared with 51 percent of democrats.  

According to a recent poll from Quinnipiac University, 18 percent of republicans said they plan to vote by mail compared with 51 percent of democrats.  

“I don't particularly want to go to the polls because I'm close to 70 and, you know, that makes me a high-risk group for COVID,” said Edling.

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According to a recent poll from Quinnipiac University, 18% of Republicans said they plan to vote by mail compared with 51% of Democrats.

Those numbers don't surprise Bucks County Republican Committee Chair Pat Poprik.

“I think the Republican people that I have talked to don't trust it at all. I mean, they say to us, 'We're not doing mail, we’re coming,'” said Poprik.

Edling doesn't see it as a partisan issue.

“To me it's not. Everybody, every citizen, has the right to vote. My own brother is of a different political persuasion and he's in a high-risk group for COVID, so I know that he's doing mail-in balloting,” said Edling.

Voters in Pennsylvania have until Oct, 27 to apply for mail-in ballots and then until Nov. 3 to get them into their county elections office.