As we approach the 2020 Election Day, there are those who question the safety and security of our voting system. Whether you vote in person or participate in the option to vote my mail, it is important to know that your vote is counted.
There seems to be legitimate concern in many areas of the country and in the state of Pennsylvania. Chamber President Susan Williams talked with the Venango County Commissioners and employees charged with executing Election Day. They enthusiastically shared how things will work here—before, during, and after the election.
In Venango County, the three Commissioners serve as the election board. Sabrina Backer is the Director of Elections, Jamie Kirkwood is Elections Coordinator and Melanie Bailey is Voter Registrar. To the most important question “How do I know my vote has been counted and that no one gets more than one vote?” Sabrina carefully explained options for voting, which include in-person voting at the polls or mail-in.
Mail-in voting was introduced in the spring 2020 election. Absentee ballots, available previously, required a reason that a voter could not physically vote at the polls. Mail-in ballots do not require justification. Every registered voter has the option to vote by mail, with several options for requesting a ballot. They include calling the courthouse annex, requesting your ballot online at votespa.com, or using one of the forms many third party solicitors are sending. While the third party mailings may seem like propaganda, they can be used to request a ballot.
The election officials will only issue one ballot per voter. The envelope that contains the ballot has a unique qualifying barcode, one of the many controls to make certain that only one vote is cast per voter. In the event a voter mails a ballot and then goes to the poll, the poll worker will be able to verify if the mail-in ballot has been received. If it has not, the voter may cast a vote if they surrender their ballot and envelope to an Election Official, or they may vote with a provisional ballot. If the mail-in ballot is later received, it will be discarded. There is a well-planned process for provisional voting that provides the election board a way to resolve any questionable ballots.
Venango County invested in new voting machines, first used in the November 2019 election. They have since added new technology—electronic poll books. When voting in person, you will electronically sign the book. Jamie explains that this will be much more efficient in tracking who has voted and coordinating with any mail-in activity. Sabrina adds that all of these tools are extremely secure. County staff and poll workers have received extensive training and have many controls in place to protect the integrity of your vote.
Sabrina and Jamie admit that the work created by the mail-in vote is significant, especially with the expected 12,000 mailed ballots (approximately half of Venango Counties registered voters) they expect in the November election. But they are genuinely emphatic that every vote counts and the priority is on making it possible for each and every voter to be able to participate in the electoral process.
To further explain the security of voting, the commissioners explain that the voting machines are in no way connected to the internet. The process of collecting and protecting the votes is carefully secured.
There are many ways for the public to be involved, besides just casting a vote. Community members serve as poll workers and, while there are currently a sufficient number of volunteers, the County is always enthusiastic to train additional workers. The commitment of a poll worker includes a two hour training and then Election Day, from 6 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., with no option to leave the polling location.
Sabrina offered a few reminders to voters, including that all 44 precincts will be opened for in-person voting. Those who chose to take their mail-in votes to the County in-person may only drop off their own ballot.
She assured us that they are well prepared to handle Venango County’s ballots, even anticipating the increased number of voters, the mailed in ballots and the process of resolving provisional votes (those that may require verification to assure a single, verified ballot has been cast).
Susan Williams remarks: “I left our meeting feeling very confident that our Commissioners and County staff are prepared for November 3rd and that my vote will be handled appropriately. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to cast a vote and I encourage our business community to support and encourage employees to participate in the election.”
Business for America (BFA), as part of the nonpartisan VoteSafe coalition, provides suggestions for how businesses can support elections:
- Employee volunteers: Poll workers and ballot preparation.
- Facilities and logistics: Polling places in empty offices or warehouses, fleet vehicles for ballot pickup, ballot dropboxes on company property (all set for Nov. 2020)
- Tech: Pro bono election technology and cybersecurity assistance.
- Communications: Voter guides, social media content, public service announcements.
Sabrina confirms that the most helpful of these, at this time, would be sharing information. Venango County is very prepared for the November election, but willing volunteers are always appreciated, especially in planning for future elections.
To offer support, contact Sabrina S. Backer, Chief Clerk/County Administrator at (814)432-9508 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Find more information at co.venango.pa.us/356/Voter-Registration-Election-Services or by contacting the courthouse registration office at 814-432-9514.
This article was published in the Venango Chamber’s October 2020 VenangoWorks! Newsletter.