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Election 2020: York County voters turn out in droves

Hundreds wait in line to vote at Northeastern Middle School, Tuesday, November 3, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

Long lines at Election Day polling places are common during presidential election years, but at Northeastern Middle School in East Manchester Township on Tuesday, hundreds of voters waited up to four hours for their turn at the ballot scanner.

By 2 p.m., the line stretched about a quarter mile from the entrance of the middle school past the entrance of the high school.

“This is crazy,” voter Melody Ward said. “We had people leave (the line) already.”

High turnout was expected throughout York County, with a contentious presidential race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. A high-profile congressional race in Pennsylvania’s 10th District between U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, the Democratic challenger, was also a feature for voters in much of the county.

Ward, of East Manchester Township, said she voted in person because she lacked confidence in the mail-in ballot system, and she wasn’t alone in her reasoning.

Jerry Sterner said he was talked into voting in person because of concerns over the security of mail-in ballots and uncertainty that his vote would count.

“I just thought it would be better,” he said.

But if he’d known he’d be waiting in line so long, Sterner said, he would have gone ahead and used a mail-in ballot. He said he plans to vote by mail in the next election.

Numerous other voters in York County said they had requested mail-in ballots that never arrived, and they instead cast provisional ballots on Tuesday. 

More:County officials: Counting provisional ballots could take a week

About 93,000 York County voters requested mail-in ballots for the general election, county officials have said, more than double the 40,000 mail ballots cast in the June 2 primary. 

By 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, county election workers had opened 73,000 mail ballots to prepare them for tabulation after the polls closed. Details about the total number of ballots returned to the county as of Tuesday evening were unavailable.

At Northeastern Middle School, the ballot scanning machines were in the cafeteria.

Every voter had to be filtered through a single doorway where a one poll worker sat at a table and directed each person to write their name on a piece of paper before taking it to another table where they would check in and sign their name, which seemed to contribute to the long wait time.

York County employee Angie Deshields sorts ballots at the York Fairground's Memorial Hall Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. About 100 county employees volunteered on their day off to help process ballots. Bill Kalina photo

Eric Hornberger and James Taylor, both of East Manchester Township, got in line to vote at 11 a.m., and by 2 p.m. they still hadn’t made it into the building.

But they were cheerful as they waited. Both men said they came out to vote for Trump, who they said has more than delivered on his promises from the 2016 campaign.

Taylor said he grew up in New York City and remembers what Trump was like as a businessman before he got into politics.

“He is no different today than he was in 1987 or 1988, except that he was a Democrat then,” Taylor said.

Hornberger said he’s a military veteran and that he believes reports about the president disrespecting the troops are “fake news.”

Katie Hundley had been waiting in line for more than three hours Tuesday when she said she came out to vote because it was probably the most important election in her lifetime.

“I think the country’s at stake,” she said.

There were no indications of intimidation outside the building or arguments among the people in line, and voters generally seemed to be in good spirits despite the long wait.

High turnout: East Manchester Township wasn’t the only busy precinct Tuesday.

At Calvary Baptist Church in West Manchester Township, voters lined up along both sides of a narrow hallway to cast their ballots.

In northern York County, long voting lines started in the morning and lasted much of the day.

At Fairview Bethel Church of God, 800 Old Forge Road, many voters waited in line for two hours until crowds thinned slightly after 1 p.m., said Democratic poll-watcher Glen Dunbar.

“I’ve never seen this kind of turnout,” he said, adding it appeared much higher than turnout for the presidential election four years ago.

He said he’d seen no arguments or confrontations.

Data showing the percentage of voter turnout in York County compared with the number of registered voters was unavailable as of 6:30 p.m., officials said.

About 3:30 p.m., Michele Ebersole said there were two lines, split A-L and M-Z, and she estimated she’d be in line for an hour.

“It’s not raining, it’s not snowing, and the sun is shining,” she said. “It could be worse.”

The line to vote was also quite long a half-mile away at the Fairview Township municipal building, 599 Lewisberry Road. One voter said he waited for two hours to cast his ballot.

The parking lot and grassy area around the municipal building was able to accommodate the large number of parked cars.

At 2:40 p.m., two long lines of people were waiting to vote at the Newberry Township municipal building.

Those not far from the front door said they’d been in line about half an hour. They also said they hadn’t seen any arguments breaking out.

The parking lot was so full that people were parking along Old Trail Road, where the shoulder wasn’t wide enough to allow those parked vehicles to be completely off the road. Newberry Township fire police were directing traffic in the immediate area.

Some polling places had a rush in the morning but slowed down by the afternoon, and voters didn’t have to wait at all before casting their ballots.

At Eagle Fire Co. in Mount Wolf, 54 Center St., a state constable reported there was a long line Tuesday morning, but by 3 p.m. there was no line and voters were arriving and walking inside to cast their ballots immediately.

In York City’s Ward 5 polling place at the YMCA, 90 N. Newberry St., voters were lined up around the building at 7 a.m. waiting for the doors to open, poll worker Dianne Creagh said, but the rush quieted down by 9:30 a.m.

Sheila Tirado, of York City, brought her two children, Savannah, 10, and Uriyjah, 6, with her to vote to show them how the process works.

“It's something they need to learn about and see in the future so when they get older, they can know what to do the next time to vote," Tirado said.

Reporter Liz Evans Scolforo contributed to this report.