Harrisburg, Pa. -- There's only seven weeks left before the Nov. 3 election. That means time is running out for Pennsylvania to get organized and ensure voting goes smoothly this year.
In 2016, 84,000 people were registered to vote by mail in the election. As of yesterday, 1.9 million Pennsylvanians had registered to vote using a mail-in ballot for the 2020 election.
As a result, a surge of in-person and in-mail votes is expected this year and state leaders, including Governor Wolf, are urging the General Assembly to quickly pass regulations to ensure state counties and election officials in preparation.
“We’ve made great improvements in our elections with mail-in ballots, more security and new voting systems with a paper trail. But this will be a historic election and the nation is watching, so the legislature should take immediate action to make it better, said Governor Wolf in today's press conference. "The smart changes I have outlined will strengthen our elections, help people to vote safely from home and allow counties to more efficiently process the surge in ballots so results are available faster.”
The Governor proposed four changes that state legislature should pass to help the processes of voting and counting votes to go smoothly and timely:
1. Allow counties to start pre-canvassing ballots 21 days before the election day to get accurate results faster.
Currently, pre-canvassing is not allowed until 7 a.m. on election day. The process involves scanning and verifying the ballot envelope, checking the voter’s eligibility, opening the mail and secrecy envelopes, and removing and scanning the ballot to prepare the ballots for the scanner machines.
2. Allow counties to count eligible ballots that are postmarked by election day and received by the Friday following election day.
3. Require counties to send mail-in ballots at least 28 days before the election.
Currently, counties are required to send mail-in ballots 14 days before the election. This change would help to ensure voters have at least four weeks to receive and return their ballot.
4. Allow counties to appoint poll workers to vacant positions earlier than five days before an election.
There is a poll worker shortage in Pennsylvania, and across the nation, as concerns over COVID-19 are keeping many poll workers home. Without a full staff of poll workers, voting locations are at risk of closing and/or facing severe delays on election day.
The Department of State and counties, which administer Pennsylvania’s elections, have already implemented some improvements, including high-speed scanners and new technology, to assist with ballot processing in anticipation of November's election.
The Department of State is also providing counties with masks and face shields for poll workers, along with hand sanitizer, floor marking tape for social distancing, plastic “sneeze guards” to ensure the health and safety of workers and voters at the polls.
“Voting during a pandemic will be different for all of us, but I remain confident that no matter how you vote – our state’s election systems are safe and secure,” said Gov. Wolf. “Counting a record number of votes may not be complete on election night, but what’s most important is that every vote is counted, and the results are accurate, even if it takes more time than usual."
Eligible Pennsylvanians can register to vote by Oct. 19 and apply for their mail-in or absentee ballot by Oct. 27 online at votespa.com, in person at their county election offices, or by paper forms submitted by mail. Online application for mail-in and absentee ballots are also available in Spanish. Pennsylvania is not automatically sending ballots to voters.
After verifying the voter’s eligibility, counties send the voter a mail-in ballot with return postage paid by the Department of State, so casting a ballot is free to voters. Voters can return their ballot by mail, in person at their county election offices or at other authorized drop-off locations, which many counties expect to provide.
For voters who prefer to vote in person, polling places will be available in all counties on election day, Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.