About 27 percent of the votes cast during Pennsylvania’s primary election in April were via mail-in ballots.

The final tally, according to the Lebanon County elections office, was 6,347 mail-in ballots, or 26.8 percent, of the 23,619 votes cast. Additionally, 26 percent of the approximate 91,000 registered Lebanon County voters cast theirs in the 2024 primary election. 

Sean Drasher, director of Voter Registration/Elections, said the comments he received from poll workers who manned the county’s new drop-off location at the county courthouse were mostly positive.

Read More: Local voters return mail-in, absentee ballots on 1st day of new satellite office

“We never really had lines, just a few times that cars backed up, like a couple of times over those few weeks,” said Drasher. “Everybody who was down there said the same thing, but outside the weather, when it was cold and nasty out to start, lines were steady the whole time. But never long lines, and the exchanges went extremely fast. Overwhelmingly positive comments.”

The positive comments during the three weeks the booth was operational ran the gamut.

“Just about every day I asked whoever was working there, when I picked up the ballots, what was said,” said Drasher. “And people seemed to love it. They loved not having to get out of their cars and people were positive with the comments they made. I asked because I wanted to make sure the workers weren’t being verbally abused.”  

There were two exceptions, Drasher added, on the first very day that the drop-off booth was open for business. That day, which was cold and rainy, two negative comments were made that Drasher found to be ironic. 

He noted that those voters aired their displeasure with the drop-off location while delivering their mail-in ballots there. (LebTown was there the day the booth opened and provided next-day coverage.)

“We had someone, our poll worker, who jumped in to cover for the person who couldn’t make it, and that person, who was willing to help out, was the one who got the beef,” said Drasher. “On the first day, we had two who waited to give their beef, just two people, and after that day there was no more negative feedback. And it was kind of funny that both of those people who complained also used the booth to drop off their ballots.”

Drasher said that a positive of having the mail-in drop-off location is that it alleviates lines on Election Day, which is especially important during a presidential election since that is traditionally when voter turnout is at its highest.

“We know voting is going to go way up this fall, we know this historically because we have the numbers,” said Drasher. “Every person that votes by mail is one less person that has to wait in line on Election Day, and I am kind of OK with that.”

For Drasher, who is charged with ensuring voting runs smoothly, that fact is a matter of semantics and not his political opinion.

“That’s not a statement about mail-in voting or some bigger political commentary,” he said. “It’s here (legally). We, as an office, have to adjust to it and we’re trying to make the most of the situation. If people are using a mail-in ballot and using the drop-off location, then there are fewer people waiting in line, which makes a better (voting) experience for everybody else.”   

Drasher said the first-ever use of electronic poll, or e-poll, books at all 60 county voting precincts to sign-in voters during the primary was an overwhelming success. 

Read More: County election board approves trial run of e-poll books at select local precincts

E-poll books contain the same information as its paper counterpart: names, addresses and birth dates of registered voters. The electronic version also verifies a voter’s status and any issues that may arise. 

A message would notify the poll worker if the voter had already received a mail-in ballot, if they are in the wrong polling place, or if they need to provide identification.

“This was the first full rollout of the e-poll books and it was a success,” said Drasher. “We didn’t receive any negative feedback. We had some set-up questions, which we expected, but the machines did what they (sales reps) said they would do. We have some additional training that we need to do so that we equip the poll workers as fully as possible.”

There were a few lessons learned that will be incorporated into how polls operate this fall to make the voting experience even better than before. That will happen because the electronic books are moving voters quicker through the lines.

“We can eliminate some steps and we can streamline the process even further,” said Drasher. “What we found were average check-in times were much better, and when we make some minor tweaks, we expect to slash check-in times. Check-in times were going so quickly that we were worried about having enough polling stations for people to vote.”

That problem will be eliminated by adding polling stations for precincts that are the busiest. 

“The check-in process, where it used to be a bottleneck, was now going so fast that there was a problem over here with people waiting to get a booth,” Drasher said. “That really wasn’t that big of a problem and it was easily handled with the turnout that we had. But for the fall, we don’t want to exchange one line for another, so we’re going to add more polling booths on top of what we already have.”

Some changes will be made to how polling precincts are configured to help ensure that voter lines aren’t shifted from one location to another.

“We will realign how the poll workers are set up so that we can streamline the process,” added Drasher. “Right now, from walking in the door and until you put pen to the ballot, there are a number of steps you have to take. We’re able to combine a few of those steps with the e-poll books.”

He told LebTown that the use of Lebanon High School students at 16 of the 60 voting precincts was a hit. He lauded high school civics teacher Keith Rolon for promoting the need for poll workers to his students.

Read More: Too young to vote, Lebanon HS students still hit the polls – as election workers

“There are two reasons this is important,” said Drasher. “There’s the civics side, which is how you can help your community, and it is a very big help to the community. I guess that’s where my office is coming from with this. But where Keith is coming from and, honestly, where my heart is in this, is helping-the-kids side.”

Drasher said working the polls requires students to interact with strangers, which helps them develop social skills and working the polls means they are working a job and getting a paycheck for their services that day.

“They have to get out and use their social skills,” he said. And for many of them, this is the very first job that they’ve ever had.”

Important Election Dates

Oct. 21 – Last day to register to vote in the presidential election.

Oct. 29 – Last day to request a mail-in ballot.

Nov. 5 – Election Day. (Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Anyone who is in line at 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote. All mail-in ballots must be delivered to election headquarters at the county municipal building by 8 p.m. that day.) 

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...


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