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York County eyes more mail-in boxes after Trump files a lawsuit

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Two York County commissioners said Tuesday they'd be in favor of having additional drop-off boxes for mail-in ballots throughout the county, as long as the county can secure the boxes and protect an election's integrity.

Alternate drop-off locations for mail-in ballots are a central tenet of a federal lawsuit filed Monday by President Donald Trump's reelection campaign against Pennsylvania's top election official and all 67 counties.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, alleges that, among other things, unsecured drop-off locations for mail-in ballots jeopardized the integrity of the state's election process.

"I do know there are security concerns, and we have to make sure the boxes are secure and can’t be broken into," said Commissioner Doug Hoke about the ballot boxes.

Drop boxes became an increasingly important feature in the June 2 primary after election officials responded to the coronavirus pandemic by urging voters to cast mail-in ballots.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and the boards of elections for all 67 counties are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The Trump campaign alleges that some Pennsylvania counties had unsecured ballot collection boxes at shopping centers, in parking lots and retirement homes, on college campuses and at other nongovernmental facilities.

York County collected mail-in ballots in secure lockboxes at the York County Administrative Center in York City and at the county's facility on Pleasant Valley Road in Springettsbury Township, which houses several county department offices.

Hoke, a Democrat, declined to comment on the Trump lawsuit, but he said he's received only positive feedback from voters about the drop-off boxes and the mail-in voting option during the June 2 primary.

If possible, he said, he'd like to add a few more drop-off locations in different parts of the county to make it more convenient for voters who live far from York City.

Commissioner Ron Smith, a Republican, said the majority of the voters he spoke with also said they were happy with the mail-in system, and they requested more ballot drop-off locations.

Smith said the drop box at the county administrative center was locked and monitored by a sheriff's deputy and surveillance camera at all times.

"If we can come up with something that we can monitor that way, I would be in favor of that," he said of adding more drop-off locations. "But it has to be secure."

More:Trump campaign sues Pa. over ballot drop-off sites

York County purchasing director Tina Blessing accepts a mail-in ballot being dropped off by a voter before inserting it into a nearby secured drop box at the York County Administration Center on East Market Street in York City, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted no-fault mail-in voting for all Pennsylvanians last year, a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the U.S.

Smith and Hoke both said their only criticism of the system was the deadline for voters to apply for mail-in ballots.

The deadline was only one week before the primary, leaving county leaders scrambling to process the applications and mail the ballots out to voters in time.

Heading into the general election in November, Smith and Hoke said they hope state officials will move the deadline back a few weeks to give local election officials more time to process the applications.

Lancaster County officials set up only one ballot drop-off box, in the lobby of the county administration center, said Randall Wenger, chief clerk for the Lancaster County Board of Elections.

Wenger said the mail-in voting system worked well in Lancaster County, except for the extended amount of time it took county officials to canvass the mail-in ballots after June 2.

It took nearly a week, with several county employees from different departments helping out, for the county to process the 63,000 mail-in ballots submitted by voters, he said.

"I still believe voters would like to know the results of the election on election night, or really, the next morning," Wenger said.

If the General Assembly were to update the law to allow election officials to begin canvassing mail-in ballots a few weeks before the day of an election, the results would be available more quickly, he said.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler and Elections Director Steve Ulrich could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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