Pennsylvanians face challenges voting by mail with less than a week before Election Day

By Cecilia Markley

Updated Friday, Oct. 30

While Election Day is less than a week away, voters across Pennsylvania have been returning mail-in ballots for several weeks.

Over 2 million mail-in or absentee ballots have been cast as of Thursday, according to a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of State. Some Pennsylvanians who requested mail-in ballots saw delays in receiving them and, in more than 4,200 cases, even received two.

Joan Rappold decided to vote by mail in the general election due to her respiratory health problems. Rappold lives in a senior living center in western Pennsylvania.

She voted by mail for the first time in the June primary and said she had no problems then. Rappold added that the staff at her center have been helpful throughout the process.

She said that her ballot for the general election was delayed in arriving.

“We were waiting for it and waiting for it and wondering if we were going to get ballots or if we would have to go down and vote in person,” Rappold said in a phone interview.

Once her ballot did arrive, Rappold said she decided to have her daughter take it to the post office because she worried about sending it through the mail.

Hope Forbes lives in Redstone Highlands in Greensburg. She and her husband both ordered mail-in ballots, a decision Forbes said they made because they recently moved into the western Pennsylvania senior living community.

“I do not know the area very well and it was made very easy for us to do it by mail here,” Forbes said in a phone interview. “Our director of activities here made us all very aware of what dates things would be due, and she offered mail-in information for us or any information we wanted. She was just very, very, very helpful.”

While Rappold said she experienced delays in receiving her ballot, Forbes said she did not find the process difficult and didn’t encounter any problems. Forbes said she received her ballot and returned it by mail on Tuesday.

Westmoreland County resident Diana Manno was one of the over 4,200 voters who received a double ballot, a mistake caused by a computer error, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Manno decided to vote by mail because she said she thought the lines at her local polling place would be too long. Manno, her husband and her daughter requested mail-in ballots, which she said arrived in mid-October. When they arrived, Manno and her daughter each received two.

Manno said she and her daughter destroyed their duplicate ballots, filled out their one ballot and took them to the Westmoreland County courthouse to drop off.

“I didn’t bother calling anybody or whatever,” Manno said in a phone interview. “I actually saw on Facebook the day after I got mine, someone said, ‘I got two ballots, did anybody else?’ and I’m like, oh, so it’s a thing.”

Although she has resolved the issue for herself, Manno said she is not as trusting of the voting process in Pennsylvania after the experience.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence in it this year,” Manno said.

Stephen Klein of Bucks County had never voted by mail before this election, but said he wasn’t comfortable going to vote in person due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Klein said he received two ballots and, after filling out one, called his local elections office but received no response. He decided to contact local media to alert them of what had happened.

He put his completed ballot in a local drop box two days later and received confirmation of its receipt nearly a week after that. He has since learned from the county elections office that at least 1,091 people in Bucks County have received two ballots.

Klein said he fears that officials are trying to undermine the voting process.

“I trust the voting process, I just don’t trust certain officials and certain organizations,” Klein said in a phone interview.

Klein received an email from the Pennsylvania Department of State on Saturday, five days after dropping off his completed mail-in ballot.

“The Department of State urges voters to return their ballot today to ensure timely arrival,” the email said. “It is important to remember that all the duplicate ballots are coded for the individual voter, so if a voter tries to submit more than one ballot, the system would prevent the additional ballots from being counted. It is also important to remember that voting more than once in the same election is a crime.”

Robin Staff is the volunteer leader of her area’s group of the progressive Indivisible movement. The Springfield Township resident voted by mail for the first time in the June primary, which she said went smoothly, and requested a mail-in ballot again for the general election.

“It was just too risky with COVID-19,” Staff said in a phone interview. “I don’t mind standing in long lines, but I do mind being in a small 2-by-4 with 10 or 15 people.”

Staff said her and her husband’s ballots both took longer than they expected. They used the online ballot status tracker provided by the Department of State, and the ballots took at least 10 extra days, arriving last Monday.

Staff, who lives in the same county as Klein, said when the ballots arrived, she received two and her husband received one. She and her husband went to one of the Bucks County ballot drop-box locations,where she gave an official her second ballot, which she said the official told her would be destroyed.

She then put her completed ballot in the drop box. On Sunday, she received confirmation through the ballot status tracker that her ballot had been received.

“It’s been confusing and disconcerting,” Staff said. “I do think, because I got validation that they received my ballot, I feel like Pennsylvania is handling this well.”

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