Get ready to vote

Jacob Graff, 19, (L) casts his first ballot with his father Benjamin while wearing a mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 2, 2020. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Mail-in ballots have already started going out to voters in Philadelphia, and seven satellite election offices, where residents can sign up to vote and fill out ballots, are set to open Tuesday.

Later in the day, President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden are scheduled to debate for the first time. 

Pennsylvania, as a traditional ‘swing state,’ is expected to play a key role in the result of that race, though whether we’ll know the outcome by Nov. 3 is up in the air. 

A federal judge based in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Monday blocked the U.S. Postal Service from making service reductions, becoming the fourth judge ordering the agency to halt changes ahead of the election.

Metro spoke to City Commissioner Lisa Deeley, who chairs the three-person board overseeing elections in Philadelphia, to get the ins and outs of what voting looks like in the time of COVID-19.

The following interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

Let’s start off with the basics. What are the different ways people can vote this fall?

Any registered voter in Philadelphia can vote by mail with no excuse. In order to do that, they would have to apply for that vote-by-mail application. They can do that by visiting our website at philadelphiavotes.com.

Or beginning tomorrow (Tuesday), they can go in-person to a satellite election office and request their mail-in ballot. The mail-in ballot will be printed for them on demand. They can vote that ballot and return it to election personnel at that site.

In addition to that, voters can always go to their polling place on Election Day to vote.

For people who have never voted by mail, what should they be expecting?

It is new to most of us. June was the first time we were able to vote by mail with no excuse. So you would fill out the application. Within about a week to two weeks, you should get your ballot sent to your house, where you can vote on it in the comfort and safety of your home. You can either return that ballot through the United States Postal Service or bring it to one of these satellite vote centers to drop off.

What are your biggest concerns as we near Election Day? I saw your letter last week about the “secrecy envelopes” and the “naked ballots.” Would you say that’s your biggest concern?

That’s one of several concerns that we have. I wouldn’t say it’s the biggest, but certainly to see votes tossed aside for a mere technicality certainly does have me concerned, so (I) appreciate this conversation and the ability to once again remind voters that are voting by mail: First and foremost, read the instructions, follow the instructions and put the voted ballot into the secrecy envelope then the secrecy envelope into the declaration envelope.

If ballots are not in that secrecy envelope, they cannot be counted. 

Is there any other common error associated with mail-in ballots that could invalidate a vote besides the secrecy envelope?

We also want to make sure that voters sign the declaration envelope on the back.

When will mail-in ballots start going out to voters?

Mail-in ballots have started going out today, so people that have applied already or applied early can expect to receive their ballot at their door any day now.

City Commissioner Lisa Deeley chairs the three-person board that oversees Philadelphia elections. PHOTO: City Commissioners Office

Are you worried about the capacity of the U.S. Postal Service to handle all of that mail-in ballots that are expected in November?

Well, we’re going to do everything to mitigate that with the use of these satellite election offices for people to use as an option to get their ballots to us. In the primary, we also did some mobile drop-off locations. We’ll look to do that again. As we get closer to the election, we will hopefully be able to announce other options for voters to get us their voted mail-in ballots. 

Once people receive their mail-in ballot, are you recommending that they send it in earlier than the deadline?

Oh, absolutely. So as soon as you get your mail-in ballot and you know what you want to do with it, make sure you vote it and return it as soon as possible back to us. 

The sooner you return that ballot to us, the more likely it is that we’ll get it on time.

For those who do plan to vote in-person on Election Day, what precautions is the City Commissioners Office taking to keep everyone safe?

Similar to what we saw in June, we will have PPE provided for our election board workers. Voters are asked to please wear a mask. If voters do not have a mask, there will be masks provided if they want to put one on. There will be gloves for voters to use when they’re operating the ballot-marking device.

The polling places were consolidated significantly for the June primary. Do you yet know how many polling locations will be open this time?

We are working towards opening 800 polling locations or more for Election Day with no consolidations. Each division will stand up on their own. 

We are working hard to secure locations that are the same as voters voted in in November of ‘19, but we know in some instances, whether they’re firehouses, health centers, senior centers, some places that we have historically used are unavailable to us due to the pandemic. In those instances, voters can expect a change in location.

You had mentioned the mail-in drop boxes. Is there a list of where they will be placed, or what’s the situation with those?

We have yet to finalize any information regarding ballot drop boxes. However, what I have indicated is that satellite election offices are also available for voters to bring their voted ballot.

How long do you think it will take to count the votes? Or when do you think we’ll know who wins Pennsylvania?

I can say that we won’t know before we go to bed on election night, and voters should be mindful of that. It’s a very different election than what we’re used to in Philadelphia with the in-person election and most of the votes being on the voting machine.

We are going to do everything we can to count those votes as accurately and as quickly as possible.

For more information about how to register to vote, apply for a mail-in ballot or to view a list of satellite election offices, go to www.philadelphiavotes.com.

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