Election Day brings long lines, some confusion

CHAMBERSBURG—Election Day 2020 is proving to be like the rest of 2020—unusual.

Lines began to form across the county prior to polls opening at 7 a.m. this morning, with some voters waiting an hour or more to cast their ballots.

Some voters reported encountering problems with provisional ballots and other issues, however by lunchtime, most polling places were on track.

“We had a little confusion early in the morning on the change in procedures since the June primary, but we were able to get it addressed fairly quickly and have had no complaints in the past several hours,” Jean Byers, deputy chief clerk and director of elections said when contacted shortly before 2 p.m.

Large voter turnout—and the large number of mail-in ballots—is likely to slow a final count down this election.

Last year, a change in Act 77 legislation allowed for no-excuse mail-in balloting, meaning a voter could choose to vote by mail without needing a reason.

Prior to that legislation, only voters with a physical illness or disability or absence from their municipality on Election Day were permitted to vote via absentee ballot.

“Most people think mail-in voting was a result of the pandemic, but it was actually passed in November of last year way before we knew of COVID, so I think it’s probably here to stay,” explained Byers. “Hopefully we learn some valuable lessons and maybe can improve upon how it works, but I believe it’s here to stay.”

In the 2012 general election, there were 3,309 absentee ballots issued; in 2016’s general election, there were 3,385 absentee ballots issues; this year, there were 24,137 absentee and mail-in ballots issued as of last week.

“Mail-in ballots have proven to be especially popular this year with voters concerned about the COVID-19 virus,” Byers said. “Given that we have approximately 101,000 registered voters, up to 24 percent of Franklin County voters may potentially vote prior to Election Day.”

And that could slow the process a bit.

Under current law, counties cannot start pre-canvassing—the process of opening the ballots—until 7 a.m. election morning.

After workers remove the ballot, they have to backfold them so they lay as flat as possible to be scanned into the county’s high-speed central scanner, which can count approximately 4,500 ballots per hour.

Byers said the counting of mail-in ballots won’t happen until Wednesday.

“Tuesday night after 8 p.m., we could start counting them by law, but that’s when we’re processing in-person voting. Everyone is bringing back their results from the polling places, and we don’t get that done until usually 11 p.m.,” she explained. “We made the decision to start up Wednesday morning first thing.

“We’ll be counting ballots all day Wednesday into Thursday or as long as it takes to count mail-in ballots and then those results will get added into our Election Day totals,” Byers said.

“Given the fact that we may have approximately 24,000 thousand ballots to count, the county is anticipating this process taking multiple days,” Byers said. “We have also been ordered to count ballots received up through Friday, Nov. 6, which have a postmark of Nov. 3 or earlier or even an unreadable postmark date.”

Counting will be facilitated by the county’s new voting equipment, which Byers said also provides an added level of voter security.

“At the precinct, there is a precinct counter that counts the ballots one at a time. The high-speed scanner is just a larger version that can count ballots much faster. When that ballot goes into either one of those machines, it’s taking a digital picture of every single ballot. Not only do we have the hard copy, we also have a digital image that we store.”

Voters who turned out to the polls Tuesday may have noticed there is no numbered stub on the ballots to tear off. That is a change that first occurred in the primary election.

“The reason we did away with it was because we were finding when voters would go to remove the stub, it was perforated, but when they would go to rip it quickly, it would tear up into the ballot and then the ballot would not count, so we were having lots of spoiled ballots,” Byers explained. “There is no number on a ballot because then we could identify who voted.”

Election votes at the county’s 73 precincts will be tallied as they come in.

Byers said it could be the end of the week before all votes are tallied and certified.

“In Pennsylvania, at least in Franklin County, we will know results from in-person voting on Election Day,” she said.

With mail-in votes tallied beginning Wednesday, it could be days until a final count is in.

Visit TristateAlert.com tonight after 9 p.m. for updates on Franklin County polls.