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County officials: Counting provisional ballots could take a week

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
There's a long line to vote at Wisehaven Hall in Springettsbury Township on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. John A. Pavoncello photo

Though Dennis Kloster requested his mail-in ballot almost a month ago, it never arrived. 

Kloster, who showed up Tuesday to vote in person at the YMCA polling station in York City, was instead required to cast a provisional ballot, which could take anywhere from five to seven days after being collected to be counted in the 2020 election, county officials said. 

"She said she wasn't surprised, which is a little scary," Kloster said, after explaining his situation to an elections official. "It's not really what I expected to hear or wanted to hear."

Provisional ballots are typically used when questions arise about a voter's status that must be rectified before the vote can be counted.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, more residents have requested mail-in ballots in order to avoid waiting in long lines on Election Day. In York County, about 93,000 registered voters requested mail-in ballots.

As of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, election workers in York County had opened 73,000 envelopes, officials said. 

York County Commissioner Julie Wheeler said Tuesday she could not provide an exact number of provisional ballots cast that day. Mark Walters, a county spokesperson, also could not speak to the volume of provisional ballots prior to the polls closing at 8 p.m.

"They are going to take a while because we need to double check that whoever voted provisionally didn't already cast a ballot by mail," Wheeler said. "We do believe the majority of what will come in today will be counted today."

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Dianne Creagh, a poll worker at the YMCA, located at 90 N. Newberry St., assisted voters, including Kloster, who had issues with mail-in ballots.

Creagh said about 20 voters came to her station to report issues with mail-in ballots before 10 a.m. Tuesday. 

Reports came in from throughout York County of voters, many of whom had intended to vote by mail-in ballot, requesting provisional ballots on Tuesday. 

That was true for York City resident Sebastian Santos, 20, who said he had repeatedly requested a mail-in ballot but never received one, according to Spotlight PA. On Tuesday, prior to casting his provisional ballot, Santos called the situation stressful. 

With protocols in place to deal with such scenarios, however, those voters were able to also cast provisional ballots, Creagh added.

Walters said that the five to seven day waiting time is "standard procedure" for any given election and not in response to active or pending litigation.

"We don't know what the Supreme Court is going to do. All we're doing is the normal process," Walters said, "And that is a several week process in any election, no matter the lawsuits, no matter what turmoil there is outside of the physical election."

As of noon, Walters said he had not heard of any issues regarding polling stations running out of provisional ballots.

The requirement for the number of provisional ballots at a given polling police must exceed 20% of total ballots. For example, if a station gets 1,000 voters, 200 provisional ballots must be provided, he said.

"We could see the writing on the wall that there was going to be a pretty big need for provisional ballots," Walters said. 

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.