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County Hall Corner: Extra! Extra! The Latest on Mail-In Ballots

As I have noted in my last County Hall Corner, living abroad resulted in my having to explain many American idiosyncrasies.

It is not just our sports vocabulary but also the extremely odd way we go about electing a President of the United States compared to the relatively simple way heads of state are elected in other countries. In going through the process of primaries, caucuses, conventions, campaigns, elections, all of which leads to an electoral college vote (?!), I would tell my foreign colleagues that an American election is like pizza delivery. It comes in a square box with a round pizza cut into triangle slices. It doesn’t have to make sense; it just works.

But I am at a loss to explain the drama of this year’s presidential election that has tested positive for being so negative. There are ‘sky is falling’ headlines flying back and forth from each side of the political aisle. Between the nomination of a new Supreme Court Justice, racial tensions at their height, debates about the debates, we actually have an actual election happening on November 3rd — give or take a few days.

The possible delay in the outcome is because of the drama playing out concerning mail-in ballots. Around the country, there have been numerous court challenges on voting matters; however, it seems Pennsylvania has been the most contentious. I sat down for an interview with Forrest Lehman, Director of the Lycoming County Voter Services Office, to chop through this jungle of jargon in an attempt to comprehend what exactly is going to happen on November 4th.

Director Lehman has expressed extreme frustration because the truth of the matter is — no one knows right now. Election laws relating to whether drop boxes will be permitted, eligibility requirements for poll watchers, and even the actual absentee ballot itself have all gone to the courts. As Forrest Lehman noted, “The forecast is cloudy, with a 90% chance of litigation.” When a decision comes down from the Commonwealth Court, it gets appealed to the State Supreme Court, and if the State Supreme Court rules on it, it then gets appealed to the Federal Supreme Court. Round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows.

But rather than try to unmuddle that maze, we should focus on what we DO know and make sure all those who are voting by mail understand the process. First, if you have registered for a mail-in ballot, you should have received confirmation as such. You do not have to do anything but wait for your ballot to be mailed to you, which will be soon. There have been ‘junk mail’ ballots going out from various political persuasions, but these are just that, junk mail. File them in the circular file known as a wastebasket.

Second, when you do receive your official ballot, be very careful with it. It will be in three parts; the ballot itself, a plain white privacy envelope with nothing on it but the words ‘official ballot’ and the mail-back envelope. Use the ballot exactly as you would as if you were at the voting booth, and then place it in the privacy envelope and seal it. This is very important — do NOT in any way put any markings on this envelope. If you, in any way, make initials, or your name, or even note the party you voted for on the envelope, you are invalidating your ballot. When these envelopes are compiled, they should all look identically alike.

It is the return envelope that requires you to fill out some identification information AND your signature. Again, your ballot will be voided if you do not correctly follow these requirements. These precautions are all there to prevent voter fraud, not to make your life more difficult.

And finally, put it in the mail as soon as possible. There has been some back and forth in the courts about how extended the counting may take place, but what positively will not change is that if a return envelope is postmarked any later than 8:00 p.m. on election day, November 4th, it will not be counted.

This year you not only need to know who you are going to vote for but how to do it. Fortunately for those in Lycoming County, Forrest Lehman and his outstanding staff are doing everything possible to help voters. They will take your calls, but virtually every question can be answered at the Voter Services website, It is the one-stop shopping for all matters relating to the election.

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