There are scammers looking to prey on people’s passion to fulfill their civic duty by voting in the upcoming General Election in November, according to Sean D. Drasher, department head, Lebanon County’s Bureau of Registration and Elections.
While no incidents have been reported to the county’s election bureau as of publication time, these scams – and in one case a deceptive practice – are being shared as a public service to county voters.
Registered voters across Pennsylvania are receiving fraudulent text messages informing them that there is a problem with their registration. One such text message reads:
“Voter registration # (which includes a series of numbers after the hashtag) is INCOMPLETE. Please confirm your GOP voter status NOW if you are voting REPUBLICAN in November.”
The message includes a link that will download a virus to your phone if opened and there’s also a message below informing the reader that they can STOP2END receiving future messages. Anyone who receives such a message should report it to county election officials. Do not open the message or respond to it by sending a stop messaging notification.
Any text message by a Lebanon County voter should never be opened nor should voters send a stop messaging notification to the sender.
“Our office does not use text messaging,” said Drasher. “It is a very unique technology that we could look to in the future, but we are not currently using text messages for anything. Voters are getting text messages across the commonwealth that tell them there is an issue with their voter application. When the voter clicks on that information, it downloads a virus to their phone.”
Mass mailings that appear to be official county election bureau documents are being sent to registered voters. Although Lebanon County’s elections bureau does send out mass mailings, it does so infrequently.
There are several ways to differentiate between a mailer from the county and one being sent from another source. County letters contain the county’s logo, etc., on the letterhead with Drasher’s name as well as another staff member and all three commissioners.
“These things look very, very different from what we mail when you set them side by side, but it can still be a little confusing when a voter gets them – especially the voter registration forms that come in the mail partially filled out with the voters’ information!” exclaimed Drasher. “We field a lot of complaint calls regarding those, but that isn’t us.”
Some examples of letters sent from the county might include those to people who haven’t voted in five years to determine what needs to be done with their registration or when a polling location is moved to inform registered voters in that precinct of the new site.
While the county does not mass mail voter registrations or mail-in ballot applications, there are plenty of third party mailers that do.
“Third parties also send letters or postcards that say things like, ‘Our records indicate that you haven’t voted in this last election,’” said Drasher. “Voters get pretty angry about those things because it feels like a blatant violation of privacy. I get that, but again, it’s not us.”
Unfortunately, third party mailings are a situation that is getting worse, according to Drasher. A wise guideline to follow is to call the county election office at 717-228-4428 if you have any questions or concerns about any voter information you have received in the mail – especially anything that seems to be deceptive.
Unrequested voter ballots
If you get a voter ballot in the mail that you did not request, it is invalid. “Mail-in ballots do NOT go out unless a voter asks us to send one to them,” said Drasher.
If you receive a mail-in or absentee ballot in the mail that you did not request, contact county election officials. Not only is the ballot invalid, but the envelope, which contains important data that’s scanned upon receipt by the county’s election office, is not legitimate.
Door hangers – which are not technically illegal but contain bad advice – are being made available for distribution to state voters. A sample was sent to Drasher to inform his office of what voters in other areas of the commonwealth have found on their door knobs.
The first pointer tells people to vote as close to 8 p.m. on Election Day as possible as a way to help ensure voter integrity. However, in Lebanon County, it does not matter if voters cast theirs at 8 a.m. or 8 p.m.
The second pointer says people may still vote as long as they are in line to do so when the polls close at 8 p.m. – which is true but is a recommendation that Drasher believes is not in the best interest of voters.
“Why in the world would you wait until the polls close on Election Day when you can go whenever you want?” asked Drasher. “That’s crazy. All it’s going to do is create lines, stress out the poll workers, and stress out those voters who are waiting in line.”
Drasher noted these pointers are all for naught in Lebanon County.
“This does not accomplish anything. They think this will somehow protect the integrity of the vote but it will absolutely accomplish nothing other than waiting in long lines to vote at the end of the day,” added Drasher.
Drasher said voting machines in Lebanon County are not hardwired to any computer system, meaning that voting tallies can’t be distributed throughout the day. This means that a vote that is cast when the polls open in the morning is not known until after the polls are closed and each vote is counted.
“This is a totally meaningless gesture in Lebanon County,” noted Drasher.
Voter registration form
A different problem, which is not related to voter fraud or scams, concerns the new voter registration form. In an effort to save costs, the state’s new voter registration application is contained on the front side and a mail-in ballot request form is contained on the other side.
“This sounds like a good idea – it is less paper and less to mail back and forth,” said Drasher.
However, there is only one signature line, which is located on the same side as the mail-in ballot request form. This has confused individuals looking to register to vote.
“So people don’t sign their application because it looks like they are applying for a mail-in ballot by mistake,” added Drasher. “I know it is confusing, but, yes, people should still sign the form on the supplied signature line and send it to us. A voter will only receive a mail-in ballot from us if they fill out that particular information on the form. If they only fill out the voter registration information, they will not be sent a mail-in ballot.”
Drasher said the county has a quantity of the old voter registration forms that will be used first, but added that county residents have obtained the newer voter registration forms from other sources.
“Yes, we have received the new forms without being signed and those registration forms are invalid because they have to be signed to be official,” added Drasher.
Voter election grant
Drasher told LebTown his office has received the voter election state grant totaling over $466,000 and is exploring purchasing ballot processing equipment with a portion of that funding. Any pending purchases would first have to be approved by the county’s election board, which consists of all three county commissioners.
The county had applied in late August/early September for its portion of a $45 million state election grant that was approved when the state budget was signed into law by Governor Tom Wolf in July.
Important election dates to remember
First Week of October – Mail-in and absentee ballots are slated to be mailed to voters who have already requested them. (Drashed noted that mail-in ballot requests for the November election are on pace as of the same point in time as for the May primary election, but expects mail-in ballot requests to greatly increase in the coming weeks.)
Oct. 24 – The last day to register to vote.
Nov. 1 – The last day to request a mail-in or absentee ballot for the November election.
Nov. 8 – Election Day
Drasher reminds voters that mail-in ballots must be in the hands of election officials by 8 p.m. on Nov. 8. Any ballots received after that date – even those with a Nov. 8 postmark – are invalid. Drasher advises voters who wish to vote via a mail-in or absentee ballot to return them as soon as the voter receives their ballot in the mail.
“Voters are strongly encouraged not to wait until the last minute to return their mail-in or absentee ballot to ensure it is received in time,” said Drasher. “Once received, we scan the outside of the envelope to log it into our system and secure it so it can be opened and counted when we are authorized to do so.”
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