State must do more to be able to timely count all mail-in ballots

A short ballot will greet voters here and across Pennsylvania on Nov. 3.

Voters who go to the polls that day, as well as those who choose to make their selections by way of a mail-in or absentee ballot, will have little difficulty navigating the actual process of responsible decision-making.

The election’s biggest challenge will rest with the election officials tasked with counting and recording accurately the results of the balloting; Nov. 3 will be mail-in voting’s biggest test thus far in Pennsylvania and some other states, even though some others have allowed such voting for years.

The question of how to ensure the most efficient, quick and accurate ballot count in such an important election might in fact be causing some sleepless nights for officials responsible for ensuring the best election experience possible.

Unfortunately, with fewer than 60 days remaining before Election Day, the most logical and efficient means for making Pennsylvania shine on that important November day remains elusive because of procrastination and abject failure by the people whose responsibility it is to adopt the most workable, modern election rules within the spirit of bipartisanship.

Those people are the members of the Pennsylvania Legislature — lawmakers who routinely muddle some of the simplest tasks.

The most logical and efficient asset for the election less than two months from now should be — but is not yet — freedom to pre-canvass or count mail-in and absentee ballots received prior to Election Day.

A time should be set aside for counting such early ballots just before Election Day under strict supervision, so those results can be added without delay to the totals emanating from the counting conducted election night after the polls close.

Properly administered, such an early count need not be the subject of suspicion or conspiracy theories. The way early ballots are received and counted should inspire utmost confidence, not some other responses less positive.

The cross-partisan coalition VoteSafe describes itself as an organization endorsing and defending the basic principle that every American has the right to vote safely amid the pandemic. Meanwhile, VoteSafe Pennsylvania, a part of the national VoteSafe organization, while pushing for the same things as the parent group, is taking the groups’ messages to the smallest of communities, hoping to garner voter support.

For Pennsylvania residents, there is a familiar name among the leaders of the national organization. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a co-chair, is urging the commonwealth and other states to lift the restriction on election officials from beginning to process mail-in and absentee ballots prior to the general election.

Regardless of the fate of mail-in voting over the long term, making this election work within the expectations of this year’s voters cannot be described as anything short of mandatory. Harrisburg should have had its proverbial homework done months ago, and no credit is deserved for having allowed partisanship to get in the way of quick agreement.

VoteSafe Pennsylvania is urging beefed-up negotiations on broad election reform in this state, and the Office of Attorney General and Department of State are issuing warnings about robocalls spreading disinformation to suppress Nov. 3 voting.

However, more important is that a swing state of Pennsylvania’s size does not prevent the presidential race from being decided for days or longer after Nov. 3. The remedy will be easy in this short-ballot year, if it is permitted to be.


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