EDITORIAL: Make sure your vote counts
The long hallway in the basement of the York County Administration Building is crowded with people, all wearing masks, making their way slowly into a single office.
More people wait on the steps outside the old courthouse, the line sometimes stretching onto the sidewalk and curving down the street, as one by one they step up to a box near the door and drop a precious envelope in.
Voting has never looked like this here before.
When Pennsylvania changed its election law last year to allow voters to request a mail-in ballot without needing a reason, we hailed it as a huge step toward making sure everyone who was eligible to vote had the opportunity to do so.
It's been a very long year, and the coronavirus pandemic has changed the face of the world. The newly available mail-in ballots can make it easier for people to vote without putting themselves or others at risk during the public health crisis.
But for that to happen, people would have to trust all the steps involved in the system. And obviously we aren't there right now.
By Wednesday, York County had sent out nearly 88,000 mail-in ballots to voters who requested them, and nearly 23,000 completed ballots had been returned.
But some people have requested the ballots and haven't received them in the mail yet. Others don't want to take the chance that they won't receive a ballot in time, so they're going to the elections office and waiting as long as an hour to fill out the request, fill out the ballot then and there and turn it back in immediately.
Mail-in ballots come with postage paid, so you can return them through the mail. But right now, many people don't trust the U.S. Postal Service to deliver their ballots to the elections office on time, even though they will be accepted until Nov. 6 as long as they're postmarked by Nov. 3. Many of those voters are driving downtown to personally place their ballot in the county's only drop box.
And there is only one drop box for the whole county, with specific times when ballots can be dropped off. That's partially for security reasons but also because the county is in the middle of a lawsuit filed by President Donald Trump's reelection campaign to challenge the use of satellite drop boxes throughout Pennsylvania in the June 2 primary. The box is guarded at all times when voters can use it.
About a third of all registered voters in the state — 2.8 million — have requested a mail-in ballot, which leaves about 6 million people eligible to vote in their local polling places on Election Day, Nov. 3. Masks and social distancing will be necessary, and long lines are a given.
After your choice of candidates, the big decision now is, what method will you use to cast your ballot?
While voter fraud is always something to watch out for, it's not a real threat in American elections. The bigger threat we face here is that people will be confused about the mail-in voting process and make mistakes that will render their ballot void, or that people will try to vote on Election Day but won't be able to for any number of reasons.
Now is the time to make your plan to vote. If you haven't requested a mail-in ballot, you have until Tuesday to request a ballot either in person at Elections and Voter Registration at 28 E. Market St. or by sending in a form and receiving the ballot in the mail.
If you have your ballot, you can either drop it in the mail or take it to the drop box at the elections office between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday through Nov. 3. You are not allowed to drop off anyone else's ballot.
Or you can plan now to go to the polls on Nov. 3 and vote in person.
For this vastly important election, we must be sure every vote is counted. For the next election, we must look at the mistakes made this time and make the changes needed to make every voter confident that, no matter which method they choose to use to cast their ballot, their vote will be counted.