YORK, Pa. (WHTM) — It’s never a good sign for election administrators when the mechanics of elections get more media coverage than the ballot races themselves. But that’s exactly what happened during the May primary election to several Midstate counties, including Lancaster, where a ballot-printing error dragged out the counting of mail-in ballots for more than a week — and Lebanon and especially York counties, where some precincts ran out of ballots on election day.
York had followed a state formula, printing 10 percent more ballots for its polling places than the average needed for the previous three municipal primary elections. But turnout soared, especially in Republican-leaning precincts, which, in turn, ran out of ballots at higher rates than others.
So “certainly we know that formula is not robust enough given that we have an increased interest in voting, which is great,” said Julie Wheeler (R), York County’s president commissioner and chair of its election board. “If we could get 100 percent voter turnout, I would be really happy.”
She knows that won’t happen. But:
Change No. 1: The county will print more ballots. Instead of relying on past turnout, it will print 60 percent as many election day ballots as the number of registered voters in each precinct. That would guarantee enough ballots for even presidential election-style turnout. Wheeler said that’s the test: “Had we used that formula for the general election, would we have been in decent shape? And we would’ve.”
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Change No. 2: The county will monitor the rate at which ballots are used. “We have identified some of the more higher-trafficked polls, and we are going to be calling those judges of elections around 10, 10:30, on election day just to check-in, so we can be proactive rather than reactive,” Wheeler said. In other words, if voters are using ballots at a rate such that even the higher number might not be enough, county election officials should know that early enough to print more ballots. Speaking of which:
Change No. 3: “We broke the county up into four quadrants,” Wheeler said, “and we are working with printers in those four quadrants so heaven forbid we do start to run short, we will have closer facilities to print” — those four printers plus a facility at the county administration building in downtown York.
The deadline to register to vote or change your registration is next Monday, Oct. 18. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is Oct. 26 — that state law, not the preference of Wheeler or many county election officials.
“One week before an election is just not enough time for county election offices to respond so a voter can get their ballot back and be counted,” she said, especially given the prospect of an even slower United States Postal Service. “Once the ballot leaves here, the county can’t control the mail.”
What would be enough time?
“We would suggest that match the deadline for registration changes, which is 15 days before the election,” Wheeler said. “So we’re going to continue process improvement to get better but also, at the same time, I’m going to continue to advocate with my peers across the commonwealth for election law reform.”
But many Democrats have said Act 77, which created no-excuse-necessary mail-in voting in Pennsylvania, has largely achieved its goal of enfranchising more voters and should be tweaked, not overhauled. They accuse some Republicans of hypocrisy for voting in 2019 in favor of Act 77 — the result of a bipartisan deal — and then calling it unconstitutional following the 2020 presidential election, as former President Donald Trump alleged election fraud.
Wheeler said York County has mailed about 26,000 ballots so far, of which voters have returned about 3,700. Voters who want to hand-deliver their ballots can do so at the county administration building, 28 East Market Street in York, during business hours and until 8 p.m. on election day. That day, election officials will also have a collection point outside the building.