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County Hall Corner: Voting By Mail – The Real Story

Director of Voter Services, Forrest Lehman, has been receiving dozens of telephone calls daily concerning the upcoming election. Much of it stems from the latest outrage or scandal or rage or whatever it is called over the US Postal Service and its ability or inability to handle mail-in ballots in a timely manner. This all

Director of Voter Services, Forrest Lehman, has been receiving dozens of telephone calls daily concerning the upcoming election. Much of it stems from the latest outrage or scandal or rage or whatever it is called over the US Postal Service and its ability or inability to handle mail-in ballots in a timely manner.

This all stems from allegations that President Trump is gutting the USPS to sabotage mail-in ballots. The reality is that since the rise of the internet, mail volume has decreased every year since 2007, and the losses at the Postal Service have piled up to a total of $69 billion in the past ten years. As this was happening, the Obama Administration wisely reevaluated mail stops and equipment, shut down 80 mail facilities, and removed some 12,000 mailboxes. (The silence you are hearing is that no one seemed to be outraged over these practical and needed financial measures at that time).

The result of getting on a more fiscally sustainable path has resulted in the fact that the USPS has more cash on hand that it has had in years, and its leadership has stated that it will be solvent and operational at least through August 2021. As far as concerns about ensuring absentee ballots will ‘overwhelm’ the postal service, consider that in 2019, the Postal Service delivered an average 471 million pieces of mail EVERY DAY. If the USPS can handle the volume of Christmas cards that get sent every year, they can handle single mail-in ballots from a percentage of those 158 million registered voters in the country.

It is not the volume that is the problem, but the speed of delivery that would be required. The ‘crisis’ in the USPS exists because the various states have pushed the date that a person can mail their ballots so close to the election day. By law, any absentee ballot is not to be received after the polls close on election day. The USPS informed only eight states that their ballot request deadlines are “compatible” with delivery standards and “should allow sufficient times for voters to receive, complete, and return such ballots by the state’s Election Day postmarking deadline.” Pennsylvania is one of those states, and Commonwealth officials now realize they need to address this issue.

In discussing the upcoming election with Director Lehman, he reviewed the important facts.

First, the November election has NOT been delayed. By statute, it is to be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, so it will be on November 3rd for certain. He also noted that any registered voter can apply for an absentee ballot or mail-in ballot by applying online through the PA Department of State (votespa.com). Word to the wise, it is best to apply as soon as possible (late September or early October at the latest), to ensure that the voter has enough time to receive the ballot and return it in plenty of time to ensure that it arrives by November 3rd.

Director Lehman emphasized the importance of timeliness. An absentee ballot must be received by the Voter Service Department no later than 8:00 p.m. on election day. It is possible to hand-deliver the absentee ballot to the Voter Services Office at the Third Street Plaza on Third Street in Williamsport. It is also important to note that a ballot can ONLY be handed in personally. I may want to take in my absentee ballot along with my wife Debbie’s, but they would only accept mine, not hers, unless she were with me. (This is obviously a safeguard against ballot stuffing).

Those who previously applied for an absentee ballot in the spring primary and marked that they wished to be on permanent mail-in status will automatically receive their ballot. There is no need to reapply.

A very important point to remember is that if a registered voter has an absentee ballot and then decides to vote in person, they should take the absentee ballot with them to their voting precinct and give it to the poll workers who then will have the person vote on the machine. Suppose they fail to bring the absentee ballot? In that case, they will be given a provisional paper ballot, which will not be counted officially until it is determined that they did not send in their absentee ballot (thus preventing a person from getting their vote counted twice).

And just to complicate the situation a little bit more, there are political parties, candidates, and other outside agencies continually mailing prospective voters with election-related correspondence. Remember: anything concerning voting that does not come from the Lycoming County Office of Voter Services is not official information, no matter what letterhead they put it on.

Director Lehman’s outstanding staff of Assistant Director Jill Shuman, and clerks Mary-Kay Camp and Susan Johnson do an amazing job given that their workload continually gets harder due to all the new voting laws and the confusion that so many are spreading on these matters. For more detailed info — check out the excellent info source on the county website: http://lyco.org/Departments/Voter-Services.

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  • Avatar
    Marianne Tillotson
    September 2, 2020, 4:53 pm

    I wish you had left off the last sentence of the second paragraph. There was no pandemic during the Obama administration. Different situation now– the elderly and those with health risk factors for Covid infection challenges are relying on the mail now for more than voting. So I think the "outrage" (as you call it ) again Postmaster DeJoy’s recent actions isn’t as partisan as your comment implies.
    And as an aside the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act is a major cause of the Post Office’s financial woes.
    Otherwise GREAT article with much need clarification of the mail in voting process.

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