It’s simple to do your part in helping to ensure a trouble-free and prompt, accurate election: Don’t wait until the last minute to request a mail-in ballot and get it back to election officials.
That’s the message from Lebanon County election officials and the U.S. Postal Service.
Less than two months before the 2020 presidential election, questions persist about about mail-in ballot procedures, President Donald Trump’s expressed intent to hinder the United States Postal Service’s ability to handle the volume surge they are expected to create, and the possibility of days or weeks before the final result is known.
LebTown reached out to Michael Anderson, Director of the Lebanon County Bureau of Elections, and to the Lebanon Post Office, which referred us to the USPS regional media relations office, for their thoughts and suggestions.
The common refrain: “DO NOT WAIT.”
Election chief confident in repeat good experience for county
The county’s first ever election allowing anyone to cast a mail-in ballot was the June 2, 2020, COVID-delayed primary. Anderson was mostly pleased with the results.
Just over 13,000 mail-in ballots were cast in the June primary, and Anderson and his staff had them completely tallied two and a half days later.
Pennsylvania election law prevented counties from starting the June mail-in ballot count until 7:00 a.m. on election day.
Complicating matters, due to manpower shortages, Lebanon County couldn’t start counting them until the day after the election. “Our staff had to spend election day doing election day stuff,” Anderson said. And, they lost another half day when the Municipal Building closed for the rally protesting the killing of George Floyd.
Still, primary election mail-in ballot counting was completed by the following Friday.
Not surprisingly, Anderson expects a much heavier turnout for a presidential election and, unless the law changes in time, the 7:00 a.m. counting rule will still be in effect.
“We’re expecting about 80% turnout and about 35,000 mail-in ballots,” Anderson said in his office last week, as he prepared to process a pile of applications already received.
How long after the polls close on Tuesday, November 3 at 8:00 p.m. does he project having a completed count of all mail-in ballots?
“Probably Thursday, that’s the goal,” Anderson said. “That’s assuming there’s no change in the law that would let us start counting before 7:00 a.m. on election day.”
Postal service to play a key role
Asked whether he had any concerns about USPS performance leading up to Nov. 3, Anderson said that people need to understand there is no ‘next day mail.’
“If it’s a nice, bright, shiny day, the world is turning the way it should, the birds are singing, we should get mail in three days,” said Anderson.
However, Anderson noted, election mail gets priority and the postal service has asked for help.
“I think a lot of the stuff we’re hearing is just political,” he said.
“I personally have no issue with mailing my ballot,” Anderson continued, “because it’s going to have to be mailed to you to begin with. If you get your ballot though the mail, then the post office is working.”
Anderson could not recall any June primary voters who complained to his office that they requested a ballot and it didn’t arrive in the mail.
USPS says it’s ready to go for November
We called the Lebanon Post Office last week and were connected to the acting postmaster, who declined to comment on election matters. Instead, she referred us to Desai Abdul-Razzaaq, whose title is Strategic Communications, U.S.P.S. Corporate Communications, Western NY & Central PA Districts.
We asked him via email if there had been any workforce reductions at the Lebanon Post Office, or if any equipment that could be used to process November mail-in ballots had been removed or de-activated.
Responding by email, Abdul-Razzaaq did not specifically answer those questions, but responded at length that the USPS was fully capable of, and committed to, promptly and efficiently handling mail-in ballots in November. His full response can be seen here (PDF).
Important dates for the Nov. 3 election, and how not to miss them
There are presently multiple bills pending in the Pennsylvania General Assembly that might change some important dates and deadlines applicable to the Nov. 3 general election. The following were in effect at publication time. LebTown will update this story as necessary:
Now: You can apply for a mail-in ballot, in person, by mail, or online today.
October 19, 2020. Deadline to register. If you want to vote on Nov. 3 and are not already registered, you’ll have to do so by Oct. 19. You can see if you’re registered here or by calling the Lebanon County Election Office at 717-228-4428.
October 19, 2020. “Safe date” to apply for a mail-in ballot, in person, by mail, or online. Anderson recommends applying for a mail-in ballot no later than Oct. 19.
“If you apply for a ballot by that date, I can tell you for fairly certain that you will get the ballot and you will have enough time to mail it back so we have it by election night.”
But, Anderson warned, “anything after that, you’re probably going to have to drop your ballot in the drop box” to be sure it’s received by the election office on time.
October 27, 2020, 5:00 p.m. Deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot, in person, by mail, or online. If you’re going to submit a mail-in ballot application through the mail, it must be actually received at the county election office by that date and time. An Oct. 27 postmark won’t be good enough.
With an estimated two day processing time plus the time to mail a ballot back to the voter, Anderson pointed out that voters waiting until Oct. 27 to request a mail-in ballot for the Nov. 3 election are cutting it dangerously close if they want to be sure their completed ballot is received by election officials in time to count.
As soon as you have received and filled out your mail-in ballot. That’s when you can return it, either by mail, or by personally dropping it in the Lebanon Municipal Building lock-box.
November 3, 2020, 8:00 p.m. Deadline for the election office to receive your completed ballot. That’s when the polls close, and a mail-in ballot must be received at the election office or be in the Municipal Building drop box by that date and time.
If the ballot arrives later than 8:00 p.m., your vote won’t be counted. A Nov. 3 postmark won’t be good enough.
Postal Service issues or not, Anderson urges voters to put their ballots in the mail at least one week before Nov. 3 to be safe.
Again, at publication time there were several proposals to extend this deadline, but for now, the deadline for your ballot to be physically sitting at the Municipal Building is 8:00 p.m. on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Two ways to return a mail-in ballot
At present, there are only two ways to properly return a completed mail-in ballot so that your vote gets counted:
- Mailing it to the Lebanon County Board of Elections, 400 S. 8th Street, Lebanon, PA 17042
- Personally dropping it into the Municipal Building lock box anytime during business hours, up to 8:00 p.m. on election night.
Barring a last-minute election law change, mail-in ballots cannot be returned to individual polling places on election day, and there will be no satellite drop boxes at polling places or elsewhere in the county.
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