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York County Dems outpace GOP voters for mail-in ballot applications

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Democratic voters in York County have applied for about 50% more mail-in and absentee ballots than Republicans, county officials said, despite the York County GOP having about 50% more registered voters.

This is in keeping with statewide totals reported by The Associated Press last week, which showed Democrats requesting mail-in and absentee ballots at triple the rate of Republicans.

Jeff Piccola, chairman of the York County Republican Committee, said he thinks the disparity has more to do with this year's election than with party differences.

"The Democrats, up until a week or two ago, had a multi-candidate presidential primary," he said. "That drives turnout."

As of April 15, York County had received 11,017 requests for mail-in ballots, 3,142  requests for absentee ballots and 108 requests for other alternative ballots, such as those for civilians overseas and members of the military.

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About 8,500 of the requests were from Democratic voters, and about 5,700 were from Republicans, according to York County spokesman Mark Walters.

Pennsylvania has closed primaries, so only registered Republicans and Democrats are permitted to vote for candidates in their respective parties.

Piccola said the York GOP hasn't yet started pushing for its voters to use the mail-in ballot system, but those efforts will ramp up as the June 2 primary draws closer.

President Donald Trump has said he doesn't support voting by mail, saying there is a risk for fraud via ballot harvesting, or the third-party collection and delivery of completed ballots to election officials. Trump himself voted by mail in Florida's primary election last month, and while absentee ballots were involved in 24% of prosecuted cases of voter fraud, there were only 491 prosecuted cases between 2000 and 2012, according to factcheck.org.

Chad Baker, chairman of the Democratic Party of York County, said the president's views have likely influenced his base on the issue.

"President Trump has criticized and discouraged mail in ballots and I believe that many of his supporters will avoid mail in voting if they follow his rhetoric verbatim," Baker said in an email Friday.

Baker also said the higher numbers of local Dems taking advantage of mail-in voting are probably the result of volunteers' efforts to call, text and email registered Democratic voters to promote mail-in ballots.

As for fraud and ballot harvesting, Piccola said he hopes that won't be an issue in York County or at the state level.

"If we ever see that, there’s going to be lawsuits coming out the wazoo, because that’s just downright criminal," he said.

York County voters' ballots are in good hands at the department of elections and voter registration, department head Steve Ulrich said in a statement Friday.

Completed mail-in ballots that arrive at the York County elections office must be verified through a two-step system to confirm the identity of the voter before the ballot is opened and processed, Ulrich stated.

Ballots returned via the U.S. Postal Service will have two envelopes: an outer envelope with the voter's signature and an inner envelope with the voter's personal identification information and a unique bar code assigned to that voter by the state.

Before the outer envelope is opened, elections department staff will compare the signature on the back of the envelope to the signature on file in their records.

If the signatures match, staff will open the outer envelope and then scan the individual bar code on the inner envelope.

The inner envelope will only be opened — and the ballot will only be scanned — if both tests confirm the identity of the voter.

"When York County voters complete and look to return their mail-in ballots, they can rest assured that the York County Board of Elections is doing everything it can to ensure the integrity of those ballots," Ulrich stated.

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— Reach Lindsey O'Laughlin at lolaughlin@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @lmolaughlin.