Mail-In Ballots Keeping Local Officials Busy as Election Day Approaches

| October 26, 2020

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – With Election Day quickly approaching, county officials have been busy mailing out requested ballots, while beginning to process those they have received.

Venango County Director of Elections Sabrina Backer told exploreVenango.com they have sent out a total of 7,106 ballots and have already had 3,524 returned.

According to Backer, they have also had a few calls with concerns about the time it takes to receive a ballot. She noted some of the concerns might stem from the notification system, which sends an email saying the ballot request was processed as soon as officials begin printing the mailing labels for the official envelopes.

“In reality, when we have 7,000 of them to process with three people, the ballots just aren’t going out when people think they are. But we’re getting them processed as fast as we can.”

Venango County officials were also able to offer a breakdown of mail-in ballots by party, offering a more in-depth perspective on voters in the county.

Venango County currently has 9,736 registered Democrats and 19,237 registered Republicans, but of the voters who requested mail-in ballots, 3,511 are registered Democrat, while just 2,936 are registered Republican.

In terms of returns, the election office has received mail-in votes from 2,032 registered Democrats and just 1,254 registered Republicans.

However the ballots break down, it still all adds up to a substantial workload for the officials in the election office.

“The changes are difficult,” Backer noted.

“They’ve made changes to every election since we went to paper. But our office has been running smooth, even with the increased workload.”

Clarion County Director of Elections Cindy Callahan commented on the overload in her office.

“It’s really busy. We’re overwhelmed, but we have some good workers here helping us in the election office, so that’s been a blessing,” Callahan said.

According to Callahan, while they have received and began processing an estimated 2,200 mail-in and absentee ballots already, they are still focused on mailing out ballots that have been requested.

“Our main priority right now is getting those ballots out to the people who have requested them. We really have to focus on that.”

Callahan said thus far, they have processed requests for a total of over 4,700 mail-in ballots in Clarion County.

Like many other counties, Clarion has received a number of calls with concerns about delays between when people mail their ballots in and when they have been marked as received.

“We’re asking people to have patience,” Callahan said.

“There are thousands of these (ballots) to handle, and the process is working. There’s just a lot to do. Getting them entered in the system takes some time.”

Election officials in Forest County have dealt with a number of concerns when there was a delay in the initial batch of ballots that were sent out to voters.

“We sent them out on October 5 and 6, and people didn’t start receiving them until around the 16th,” Forest County Director of Elections Jean Ann Hitchcock said.

Whatever caused that delay, Hitchcock noted the issue seems to have been resolved, as the concerned phone calls have since ceased, and people seem to be getting their ballots in a more timely manner.

As a smaller county, Forest isn’t dealing with quite the same volume as many of the surrounding counties, either. With a total of 3,504 registered voters, Hitchcock said they have mailed out approximately 818 ballots and have had just 382 returned.

That stands in contrast to the numbers in Clarion County and the even larger numbers in Venango County.

One thing all of the election officials agreed upon is that people need to stay informed about the election and know the facts.

“You can still vote in person, and either way, your vote will only be counted once,” Backer noted, stating they’d received some calls from concerned citizens.

“All of the precincts will be open as normal from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. You don’t have to request a mail-in ballot. You can vote at your precinct. Mail-in voting is an option, not a requirement.”

Hitchcock noted some of the same concerns and added that Forest County will also have all of their regular polling places open.

“In spring, we had consolidated our polling places, but this time all nine precincts will be open. And people can always call the election office if they have any questions. We’d rather have them call and get the correct information than just try to guess.”

Callahan said voters in Clarion County have also had many of the same questions.

“People are a little confused. The polling locations are still open, and we want to get the word out. People need to know the polls are open,” Callahan said.

“It’s a different type of election for all of us, and it’s something we’re all dealing with, but we’re going to get through it.”

REMINDERS:

  • Mail-in ballot Requests must be received by October 27. Ballots returned by mail must be postmarked by November 3 and ballots returned in person must be received by 8:00 p.m. on November 3 at the county election office (NOT at a polling place).
  • Mail-in ballots must be sealed in the white inner secrecy envelope that indicates official ballot. Do not place any marks on the white inner secrecy envelope. A ballot must be enclosed in the white inner secrecy envelope to be counted.
  • If you requested a mail-in or absentee ballot, did not return it, and you want to vote in person, you have two options:
    • Bring your ballot and the pre-addressed outer return envelope to your polling place to be voided. After you surrender your ballot and envelope and sign a declaration, you can then vote a regular ballot. You must return both the ballot and the envelope.
    • If you don’t surrender your ballot and return envelope, you can only vote by provisional ballot at your polling place. Your county board of elections will then verify that you did not vote by mail before counting your provisional ballot.

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