Early voters pack York County's election office

Bill Kalina
York Dispatch

Voters on Monday packed the basement of York County's old courthouse and waited at least an hour to register or cast their ballots ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

As of 11:30 a.m., at least 50 people were lined up in the hallway outside the county's elections office, and dozens more poured in throughout the afternoon.

Danielle Brown of Dallastown takes a seat and talks with others while waiting about an hour to visit the York County Elections Office at the York County Administrative Center Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. It was the last day for voters to register for this year's general election. Bill Kalina photo

Many said they were there to vote early by filing a request for an absentee ballot before voting on site immediately after. Others were looking to deliver their mail-in ballots to county elections officials instead of mailing them or dropping them in the county's box outside the administrative building.

Dozens of voters were lined up at the drop box, too, shortly after noon.

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Jim Rackson, of Fawn Grove, along with his wife and 22-year-old son, took advantage of a day off to deliver their ballots. "We decided to make a family holiday of it," he said. 

"It's just so important for me this time around," he said. "I wanted to make sure I was right here handing it in physically rather than mailing it."

So far, indications nationwide suggest the 2020 election could tout unusually high turnout, propelled by the race for the White House between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Elections officials throughout the country have expressed concern about the U.S. Postal Service's ability to handle the millions of mail-in ballots expected to be sent in the coming weeks. 

Monday's crush in York County came as the number of mail-in ballot requests has exploded statewide thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. In York County alone, officials expect to receive about 100,000 requests for mail-in ballots by the Oct. 27 deadline. 

Monday was also the last day voters could register before the upcoming election, which only added to the wave, officials said. 

"I think it's those three things coming together here because we're now getting down to the wire," said county Commissioner Julie Wheeler, who was assisting with the rush of voters.

County employees from several departments were called in to help with the deluge. Some attempted to keep the crowd socially distanced. Others helped would-be voters fill out paperwork.

Rebecca Laird, right, a county commission employee, checks the ballot of Mary Heinlen of York Haven at the drop box at the York County Administrative Center Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. County employees checked voters ballot to make sure they were submitted correctly. Bill Kalina photo

At one point, a woman who identified herself as a poll watcher for the Democratic Party grilled county officials about the wait and griped that the long lines were discouraging people from voting.

York County's election office is the county's sole early voting site. Some other counties in Pennsylvania have opened satellite offices. 

But the rush at the York County election office — and the wait times for voters looking to cast their votes ahead of Nov. 3 — could only get worse, officials said. 

The phones have been ringing off the hook, and all three county commissioners, along with other county employees, have been working early mornings, late nights and weekends to stay on top of everything, said county spokesperson Mark Walters.

“I’ve seen as many as 30 people on hold at once, waiting to talk to someone, and we’ve got seven to 10 people answering phones at a time,” Walters said.

More than 9 million people had registered to vote statewide as of Monday, reported The Associated Press. Pennsylvania is widely seen as a key swing state in the presidential contest. 

Reporter Lindsey O'Laughlin contributed to this story.