The following article is written by Jane Century, an active participant of the Philly Voter Engagement Network. She wrote this for her neighborhood listserv. It is reprinted with permission. So, if you have a mail-in ballot, complete it, then bring it to a nearby Satellite Election Office or drop box locations around Philadelphia. Other voter information is available on the City Commissioners website.
In the past month, I debated whether to surrender my mail-in ballot and vote in person. But info I gleaned from elected officials and other reliable sources helped me confirm my decision to drop off my mail-in ballot at a satellite voting center last week. I realize this is a personal decision for each of us. If you are still undecided, consider the following:
1. Mail-in votes will begin to be processed sooner than machine voting. Philly has acquired state-of-the-art ballot scanners that can scan 16,000 ballots an hour. The City will begin opening and scanning ballots as soon as the polls open at 7am on Nov 3 and run continuously – 24/7 thereafter. This means that by the time machine ballot counts begin to be released to the media at 9 – 10 pm or later on Election Night, as many as 240,000 paper ballots may already be tabulated in Philadelphia alone. If the vast majority favor one candidate, it can be projected that the remainder will follow suit. This data will be reported as it becomes available. The President will find ways to cast doubt on everything, no matter what.
2. COVID safety at the polls. Polling places are indoor spaces. Voters will be standing six feet apart indoors and out and my face long waits. Voters will be asked to arrive with a mask and will be provided hand sanitizer and a single glove for handling the pen for their signature and touching the touch screen, which can only be cleaned with a microfiber cloth. Voters are not legally required to cooperate with either the mask or glove policy.
3. Voting machine equipment is complex. Our new touchscreen voting machines are still relatively new. They have complex mechanical and digital functions that also generate paper ballots after each vote is cast. Any equipment failures can slow down the process.
4. Voting in person takes time. Unlike voting from home on a paper ballot at your kitchen table, many voters are still unfamiliar with touch screen voting and how to proofread the paper ballot that gets printed after each vote. This year, there are also four ballot initiatives. Many people arrive at the polls without having reviewed these ahead of time. If people accidentally “spoil” their ballot while voting on the machine and need to redo it, decide to surrender their paper ballot and vote in person or need to complete a provisional ballot for any reason, this will slow the process for everyone.
5. Lots of new poll workers are being hired. This may lengthen the process. Many older, experienced poll workers have stepped away from serving this year due to concerns about COVID. The City received applications from 20,000 people willing to serve as poll workers to fill 8,000+ positions. The Board of Elections is currently working its way through a long list of returning and new volunteers and trying to fill vacant positions as quickly as possible. While all who serve must attend or watch a training, many polling places will be staffed by people with no prior experience. They must come prepared to oversee safety protocols for COVID, answer a myriad of questions and possibly resolve disputes arising from poll watchers.
6. Mail-in ballots are the perfect antidote to threats of voter intimidation. In the face of calls by the White House for an “army of volunteers” to watch over polling places, Mayor Kenney has been clear that voter intimidation tactics will not be tolerated. But if everyone has already cast their ballots safely ahead of time, and there are no voters waiting in line to intimidate, well, you get the point.
7. Early voting is totally in your control. Once you complete your ballot, you can drop it off any one of 17 satellite centers, knowing it will be stored safely and securely, under guard.
8. The sooner people complete and turn in a mail-in ballot, the easier it will be to prep them for efficient scanning. And the less congestion there will be at the polls. Don’t put it off to the last minute.
9. There are now 17 satellite voting centers. If you already have your ballot, you can fill it out at home and drop it off in a minute. If not, you can request one and complete it there. (If your ballot has not arrived, but your application has been confirmed online, you can cancel it in person at any satellite center, any time up to 8pm Nov 3, and obtain a new one to submit right there. See: https://www.phila.gov/2020-09-29-visit-a-satellite-election-office-today/
10. Peace of mind. Once you know your ballot has been safely cast, you can put your energies to other uses to help support a safe, fair election for all.