I’m here with a not-so-brief update on the latest in the ever-changing saga of how one actually votes in this election. Evidently the state of our country and its voting system is such that I indeed need to send multiple emails about the machinations and logistics of voting in 2020.
Since my last email, concern over the Postal Service blew up and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court handed down several rulings that impact the way the November election will be run. There’s still a need to for new legislation from the state assembly to correct some outstanding issues, but it does not appear that it will happen.
Previously, I recommended getting a mail-in ballot early. There is also a movement afoot that recommends voting in person, if possible.
Let me address the “controversy” and try to answer as many questions as possible.
What are the different ways to vote?
There are two main ways to vote: in-person, or by using a mail-in ballot.
What about the ballot drop-boxes and early voting centers?
Yes, they are new twists, but they still use mail-in ballots.
Those new ways use mail-in ballots?
Yes. The early voting centers (which were allowed under the recent PA Supreme Court ruling) are more like express mail-in locations. There, you can register to vote, apply for a mail-in ballot, get your mail-in ballot, fill out your mail-in ballot, and return your mail-in-ballot. The drop boxes are just locations that you can drop your mail-in ballot if you’re concerned that the Postal Service won’t get your ballot in on time.
What are the deadlines for mail-in ballots?
It needs to be received by the election authorities via a dropbox by the time polls close at 8 pm on November 3, or mailed and postmarked by November 3 and received by November 6.
You cannot return a completed mail-in ballot to a “normal” in-person voting location.
Technically, the deadline for a mail-in ballot application is October 27, but if you have not requested a mail-in ballot by the beginning of October, I would vote in-person, or at an early voting center. It takes several days to process the request, then (more than) several days to get the ballot in the mail, then however long it takes you to complete the ballot and drop it in the mail, then (more than) several days in the mail to get it back in time… It ain’t happening in 1 week.
If you still need a mail in ballot, do it now.
Why does this seem so complicated?
Cause it is. It’s the first general election taking place (and a huge presidential one at that) under these new rules; the rules are imperfect; the state legislature does not appear willing to solve the issues; the President of the United States is (without evidence) painting mail-in ballots as fraudulent; the political environment has turned something like “more people voting safely” into a partisan issue.
What about the in-person vs. mail-in controversy?
It’s based on informed conjecture and gamed-out scenarios of what is more or less likely to happen for the complicated reasons above.
What are the concerns about mail-in ballots?
The concerns are several. One is that the system is new, so there are bound to be issues. This is only the second election ever (after the primary) to use mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, and voting officials estimate that they will receive 2-3 times more mail-in ballots than the primary. To count all of the mail-in ballots in the primary took well over a week.
Barring a landslide, it’s likely that we will not know the outcome of the election at 11 pm on Election Night, as was often the case in the past. The close-ness of the election and the growing prevalence of mail-in ballots will mean that MANY key states (like PA) will not be called until days afterwards.
Philadelphia and the surrounding counties will begin opening and counting mail-in ballots first thing on Election Day. This includes mail-in ballots from drop-boxes, early voting centers, and those delivered by the Postal Service. Local governments have doubled and tripled their ballot opening and counting machines since the primary. Philadelphia is using the massive Convention Center as its counting hub. The plan is to continue counting 24/7 using employees from across city government until all ballots are counted. This will be replicated in the Philadelphia suburban counties too. Rough estimates are that ballot counting will take through the weekend to finish.
It is possible that the entire national election will hinge on Pennsylvania. Because of the president’s false accusations, more Democrats than Republicans are likely to use mail-in ballots. In addition, Democratic votes are concentrated in larger urban and suburban counties, while smaller rural counties favor Republicans.
It’s pretty easy to see how it’s faster to count 10s of thousands of ballots in smaller rural counties than 100s of thousands of ballots in larger urban counties. A likely outcome is that the tabulated results on Election Night will favor Republicans, but as more mail-in ballots arrive and are counted, the results will shift towards Democrats.
The concern is that like Florida in 2000, an army of lawyers and media will descend on Pennsylvania as ballots are counted throughout the week. Those election lawyers then start challenging certain ballots (of heavily Democratic Philadelphia) and the whole process becomes a circus. In turn, the circus caused by Republicans could lead the president and his party to declare the results tainted, and use some of the “doomsday” tactics that are floating around as possibilities these days.
The second concern is that voters will not adhere to the correct procedures and the ballots will be rejected. The PA Supreme ruled that “naked” ballots not enclosed within the secrecy envelope will be rejected and not counted. It means they aren’t effing around. If the ballot is not filled out correctly, it is likely not going to be counted.
If you’re using a mail-in ballot, read the instructions, then read them again before doing anything with the ballot.
What are the concerns about in-person voting?
While mail-in ballots are being openend and counted on November 3, “normal” in-person voting will happen from 7 AM to 8 PM. Philadelphia City Commissioners (the ones who run voting) have stated that they’re treating this like two separate elections happening simultaneously – one in-person, one by mail.
Because of the pandemic, Philadelphia faced an unprecented shortage of poll workers. Since many of the previous workers were older and more health vulnerable, they retired instead of adding another risk to their lives. The city is soliciting a new army of pollworkers through the city’s portal, but it is still unclear whether poll workers must reside in the Division of that polling place, or whether they simply need to be a resident of the county (Philadelphia).
Even if there are enough workers, the majority of them are likely to be young, new to the job, not familiar with typical election day shenanigans, and possibly not even from the neighborhood they were assigned to.
Having been a committee-person for a 99% Black division and spent 8 elections working outside of the polling place, I can tell you that suppression shit is going to happen.
Republicans know that a vote from a Black ward has a 95% chance of being for a Democrat, so they have every incentive to keep people from voting in certain areas. This will happen via poll watchers (both legit and not) coming into the polling place, questioning practices, intimidating voters and polling workers, reporting violations (real or not), and generally gumming up the functioning of the polling place; slow the flow of voters, increase the line and time to vote, and some voters will simply drop out of line and give up. Disenfranchising voters in these places means lowering the Democratic vote.
Here’s where those new poll workers come in. The old poll workers, who’d been around for decades, have seen all of these tricks and were used to telling the meddlers to get the hell out of there. Will new and young poll workers have the knowledge, experience, and gumption to stand up to these outsiders trying to intimidate them?
The wards with the fewest mail-in ballot requests are the Black and Hispanic wards, so not only will they be targeted, but they will have nearly the regular number of voters seen in a presidential election. Those high in-person voting numbers mean that some divisions could see wait times in the hours.
So should I vote in-person or with a mail-in ballot?
If you planned to vote in-person, I think you should vote in person.
If you planned to vote via a mail-in ballot, I think you should vote via the mail-in ballot.
Whatever you choose, MAKE A PLAN.
What if I haven’t decided how to vote?
If you haven’t ordered a mail-in ballot yet, I would lean slightly towards voting in-person. So many mail-in ballots have been requested from “white, progressive” wards, that vote times there could be just a few minutes, BUT be prepared to wait for up to a couple hours.
When will I receive my mail-in ballot?
If you requested your ballot weeks or months ago, it should arrive this week or next.
Can I still request a mail-in ballot if I have not yet already?
We are a little over a month out from the election, so if you still need to request one, get on it ASAP.
What are the details of these early voting locations?
If you need the extra assistance or time, it may be worthwhile to visit one of the early voting locations. Some will open September 29, with more locations opening as the election gets closer.
What about that mail-in ballot you told me to request?
If you ordered a ballot, I encourage you to vote via the mail-in ballot. At the time that I recommended applying, it was an insurance policy. If everything went to hell, you could still fill it out and place it one of the dropboxes. Voting in person after requesting a mail-in ballot is an advanced maneuver that I don’t recommend (see below).
Can I drop my mail-in ballot at an in-person polling location?
Not really. If you bring your mail-in ballot that is unopened, unmarked, or un-anything else, you can vote on a machine in-person. I do not recommend this “spoiled ballot” move because it is complicated and relatively unknown, especially to new pollworkers who are worrying about running their first eleciton. If you return an opened/marked ballot to an in-person voting location, you cannot vote on a machine. Instead, you will be provided a provisional ballot that will be counted only after all other votes have been counted. Provisional ballots traditionally have a very high rejection rate.
How can I know the status of my mail-in ballot?
Go here: https://www.pavoterservices.pa.gov/Pages/BallotTracking.aspx
It was crashed the last time I visited, so don’t give up if you have trouble.
Is Pennsylvania still important?
Incredibly so. Pennsylvania was a pivotal state in the 2016 election, and it is now shaping up to be the most important state in the 2020 election.
MAKE YOUR PLAN TO VOTE.
I plan to send a final update in late October with any last minute voting updates.
You can also stay up to date with Philadelphia 3.0’s very similar voting guide, apparently written in a mind-meld with myself.
President and Vice-President – Joseph R Biden, Kamala D Harris
Attorney General – Josh Shapiro
Auditor General – Nina Ahmad
State Treasurer – Joe Torsella
Representative in Congress – Brendan Boyle, Dwight Evans, or Mary Gay Scanlon
State Senator (odd # districts only) – your local Democrat
Representative in the General Assembly – your local Democrat
Question 1: “We, the citizens of Philadelphia, call upon the Police Department to eliminate the practice of unconstitutional stop and frisk, consistent with judicial precedent, meaning an officer must have reasonable suspicion that a person is engaged in criminal activity in order to stop that person, and, therefore, an officer cannot stop someone unlawfully because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religious affiliation or expression, or other protected characteristic.”
NO. This is meaningless, and simply a plea for the Administration and Police Department to make changes. It has zero teeth.
Question 2: “Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to create the Office of the Victim Advocate to advocate for crime victims and to work with victim-services providers to coordinate, plan, train, educate, and investigate issues relating to crime victims?”
NO. I can’t find much on this, but it appears that these services are already part of the DA’s office and this creates a separate, redundant entity.
Question 3: “Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to provide for the creation of a Citizens Police Oversight Commission, and to authorize City Council to determine the composition, powers and duties of the Commission?”
YES. This will update and replace the current rather powerless Police Advisory Commission.
Question 4: “Should the City of Philadelphia borrow $134,000,000 to be spent for and toward capital purposes as follows: Transit; Streets and Sanitation; Municipal Buildings; Parks, Recreation and Museums; and Economic and Community Development?”
YES. These are routine and essential for a functioning government.