Mail-in voting: The problem? The solution? Or just something to be tweaked for future Pa. elections?

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LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — Several counties around Pennsylvania — including Lancaster, York and, to a lesser degree, Lebanon in the Midstate — experienced problems during last Tuesday’s elections uncharacteristic of what’s typically a low-turnout municipal primary.

The solution, according to County Commissioner Josh Parsons (R-Lancaster?) Change things back to how they were before last week’s problems.

“Ideally, we would go back to a mostly in-person election, with absentee ballots” for people who couldn’t make it to the polls, Parsons said. “Sometimes one side won. Sometimes the other side won. But everyone trusted the process.”

The process changed after what was known as Act 77 in 2019, which enabled and encouraged widespread no-excuse, mail-in balloting. Parsons favors repealing or vastly curtailing the Act 77.

Even some problems last Tuesday that were ostensibly in-person problems were related to mail-in voting. In York County, for example, polling places ran out of ballots. County officials accepted responsibility but said part of the problem was that more people than expected, among those who had requested mail-in ballots, ultimately voted at their polling places — perfectly legal but essentially requiring a second ballot for the same voter. They said at one polling place, 96 people who had requested mail-in ballots instead showed up on election day.

In Lancaster County — which finished counting the last of its mail-in ballots Monday after a printing company error made the ballots unreadable by scanning machines — mail-in ballot requests surged from about 1,000 in 2019’s municipal primary to about 27,000 in 2021. Looking at overall turnout, those weren’t all new voters — some people who might have voted in person, if required to do so, simply became mail-in voters. But overall turnout was up. Supporters of widespread mail-in voting say: Isn’t that the point?

“All of this is just a continuation of a lie that manifested itself in an insurrection back on January 6th,” said State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) said of suggestions that widespread mail-in voting is less secure than in-person voting. He noted that Act 77 passed Pennsylvania’s legislature with bipartisan support.

Lebanon County Director of Elections Michael Anderson supports tweaking Act 77, not repealing it. He says the law has not only increased turnout but also resulted in more educated voters, who can vote slowly at their kitchen tables. “One of the things I like about that is it allows them to research their candidates,” Anderson said. “They’re not surprised at who’s on the ballot when they walk in their polling location.”

His wish list for changes includes 1) Allow election offices to “pre-canvass” mail-in ballots — in other words, open envelopes and begin scanning ballots in the days before election day (without actually tabulating or revealing any counts until after polls close). 2) Allowing voters to simply turn in their mail-in ballots at polling places, rather than requiring them to surrender their mail-in ballots and start over with what’s essentially a duplicate in-person ballot. And 3) fund and allow a bar-coded mail-in ballot tracking system for election offices to be able to tell voters where in the process their mail-in ballots are.

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