How safe and secure is this year’s election process in Pennsylvania?

Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn asks WHYY political reporter Katie Meyer some of the most pressing questions surrounding Pa.’s election security.

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(Sydney Schaefer/Billy Penn)

Mail-in voting is underway in Pennsylvania — the battleground state that presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden so badly want to win.

More than 2.5 million voters have requested mail-in ballots, popular in this time of COVID and for the sake of convenience.

Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn spoke with WHYY’s political reporter Katie Meyer this week.

She’s keeping an eye on the vote-by-mail process. She lays out some options to have these votes counted. But first, that critical step one: she says fill out the ballot properly.

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Key things to remember: fill in the bubbles completely and don’t scribble over the lines or anything. Do it in blue or black ink. Don’t make stray marks on your ballot. Make sure you use both envelopes that come with your ballot. There’s an inner secrecy envelope; if you don’t use that, your vote won’t be counted. Make sure you sign the outside ballot before you send it back. Don’t worry, it’s not super hard. Just make sure you follow the instructions precisely and get it in at least a week before the election. You should have no problem if you do all that.

Yeah. And let’s talk about some handing-in options.

Sure, so there’s a lot of options. I think most counties have started to or planned to do some sort of mail-in ballot drop-off boxes. Some smaller counties aren’t doing it, but all of the Philly area counties, for instance, are. It’s basically, almost like a big mail box where you can drop off your ballot. And those are secure; they’re monitored. For instance, if you’ve waited too long, it’s less than a week before the election and you still have your ballot, you haven’t mailed it yet, that’s a very good option for dropping it off and just making sure it gets in on time.

You can also go to your county elections office. You can always drop it off there in person. You have, in Philly, for instance, these satellite election offices where you can go, you can apply for a ballot, receive it there, you can fill it out there and you can submit it all at once if you really want to. You can also, if you already have a ballot, submit it there.

Also, if you lose your ballot or something, if you find yourself on Election Day not knowing what to do, you’ve applied for a mail-in ballot, you didn’t get one or you applied, got it [and] lost it or you applied and you still have it and [are] not sure what to do, you can go to your polling place and do a couple of different things. If you’ve lost your ballot, you can say that and you can cast a provisional ballot. If you still have it, you can always ask, if you really want to, you can ask the election workers there to spoil it, and that means … say it’s invalid and then you can vote normally. Yeah, lots of different options.

Katie, in Pennsylvania, we can only have the folks who count ballots start counting them on Election Day. That’s going to be a lot of mail-in ballots to look at. Our Secretary of the Commonwealth, Kathy Boockvar, has been saying she’s asking the legislature to pass a bill to allow counties to begin tallying things before Election Day. We have not seen the result of whether that’s going to happen or not. Don’t you think people want to know, “Look, I want to make sure I’m counted. How can I make sure I’m counted?”

That’s a question that I’ve been getting from a lot of people, people who just want to be so, so sure that their ballot is going to be tallied. And what I can tell you is the state has a tracker. County election offices, there’s a bar code on all the ballots and they will scan it when it arrives. So you should get an email saying that your ballot has been scanned. It’s at the office when it’s there. There’s a lot of ballots to work with, so it might lag a little bit. But beyond that, you’re right.

I mean, they cannot count these ballots, which means they cannot take them out of the envelopes. They can’t do anything with them until 7:00 a.m. on Election Day under state law. Even when your ballot is counted, there’s a good chance you won’t know about it. Or if it’s rejected, you might not know about it just because there’s no law in the state that says you have to let a voter know, for instance, if their ballot is rejected because the signature doesn’t match or something. I’m not saying that to scare anybody. Again, if you followed all the rules, your ballot will most likely be absolutely fine. But there’s a certain level, I think, of distrust in the process that you have to have. There’s always a little bit of that.

I mean, when you cast your ballot in a voting machine, you kind of have to trust that there’s going to be tallied and it’s going to make it back to the state. You have to understand that there’s a process in place that you might not get updates at every turn, which I think would make everybody feel a little bit better. But, you know, don’t worry. Again, the process should work.

And everybody feels a little bit better the next day when there’s some closure, the day after Election Day. And we know the results and we may not know them right away. It’s going to be very strange this year. It reminds me of, you know, all the years that I’ve read about other countries having elections and it takes weeks and weeks for results. I mean, here we are in possibly that kind of scenario.

Yeah. You know, there is a huge volume of mail-in ballots and those just take time to count, especially again in states like Pennsylvania, where we have laws that say you can’t start counting them until Election Day. If It takes time, that doesn’t mean there’s a problem. Certainly there could be litigation. That also holds up the process a little bit, depending on how close it is. But again, that’s not unprecedented either way. Remember the year 2000 when the courts kind of decided the election and said there shouldn’t be a recount in Florida? I mean, this stuff is not unprecedented. It’s certainly, I think, isn’t ideal for people who want to know the results yet.

Yeah, the courts did decide 2000. Katie Meyer, our political reporter. Thank you so much for your great reporting. We’ll look forward to listening to you some more.

The last day to update your voter registration in Pennsylvania is October 19, and the last day to apply for a mail-in ballot is October 27.

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