Michael L. Anderson has some concerns about the voting process Nov. 3 — but one thing he’s not worried about is the security of mail-in voting.
“Absolutely not,” said Anderson, who is director and chief clerk for the Lebanon County Bureau of Elections and Voter Registration. “Honestly, I think it is just as safe and secure, if not more, then voting at the precinct.
“There are so many security things in place because there has been so much scrutiny,” he added. “It’s always evolving, and I have complete trust in the mail service and how we receive, secure and count them here. I have no doubts at all.”
So much so, in fact, that Anderson himself signed up for a mail-in ballot, and he plans to return it through the postal service rather than dropping it in the locked dropbox in his office.
“I’m going to mail mine back because, as election director, I want people to know that I have no issues with the mail-in service,” he explained.
As Election Day approaches, some of the 20,000 Lebanon County voters who signed up for mail-in ballots are on edge because they haven’t received them yet. Just be patient, Anderson said.
“We are in the process of mailing them this week,” he said during an interview late last week. “We are doing them in waves. We have 20,000 applications that have been approved, so everyone isn’t going to get them in the first day.”
Ballots are being prepared and sent via a Harrisburg-based agency that’s handling the work for several counties in the region, he noted. The service — which is also printing the ballots and instruction sheets — will be able to handle the work much faster than the county office could on its own, he said.
As of last week, Anderson estimated that 6,000 or 7,000 ballots had been prepared, with that amount now up to 20,000 ballots mailed out to voters.
Voters shouldn’t be worried about receiving their ballots unless they haven’t arrived by mid-October, he said.
“We tell people to wait 10 days. It’s not next-day mail,” he said. “So they shouldn’t be calling us this week. Probably next week, or the beginning of the following week — if they haven’t got it then, we will check into it.
“I’m a mail-in ballot person, and I’m in the first wave,” he said Tuesday. “I have not received my ballot in the mail as of yesterday. Be patient.”
The number of mail-in applicants this year is up some 500 percent from the presidential election in 2016, when there were only about 4,000 absentee ballots, Anderson said. It’s also up from about 15,000 mail-in ballots mailed in the primary election in May.
The deadline for mail-in applications is a week before the election — Oct. 27 — although Anderson wishes it were sooner.
“I’d like to change that to 15 days,” he said. “If somebody applies that late, they’re going to have to hand-carry their ballot in. It’s not going to have time to come back by mail.”
Applications have to be in by the close of business on Oct. 27; Anderson noted the application can be completed online.
Once voters receive their ballots, they shouldn’t wait to return them, either.
“The sooner they do it, the better. Get it in,” he said. If people prefer to drop off their ballots, rather than mailing them in, a lockbox is available outside the Bureau of Elections & Voter Registration at the Lebanon Municipal Building, 400 S. 8th St., weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Anderson’s biggest concern with mail-in voting this year is the new rule that disallows “naked ballots,” which means ballots that are mailed without the internal “secrecy” envelope. Lebanon County has, in past elections, counted naked ballots, but a new court ruling means they must be discarded uncounted.
“We are stressing to everyone, please read the instructions,” he said. “I’m just as guilty as the next person, I don’t always read the instructions. But voting is too important. I am concerned that people will have never used a secrecy envelope before and don’t think it matters.”
On the other hand, Anderson said a lot of voters are confused because they keep receiving applications for mail-in ballots in their mail.
“They think it’s us, that we’re doing that. Some people are filling every one they get and sending them back,” he said. “Personally, I’ve seen at least four at my place.”
But really, he said, third-party organizations have been sending them out to encourage voting.
The applications are real, Anderson said, but there’s no need to fill one out if someone has already applied. In fact, he said, sending in multiple applications bogs down his office, because each one has to be sorted and processed before they determine if it’s a duplicate.
Of course, voters still have the option of going in person to the polls Nov. 3.
“All 60 precincts will be open on election day. They still have that choice,” Anderson said.
The only hitch is for people who applied for a mail-in ballot but choose to go to their polling place on Nov. 3 instead of mailing the ballot.
“The law allows them to do that, but they have to take their whole ballot with them, surrender the ballot and sign a declaration,” Anderson explained. “That will slow down the process, so be prepared to wait.
“If you don’t do all that, you’re voting provisionally,” he added. “Provisional ballots won’t be counted for a week, maybe a week and a half after the election … because mail-in ballots will be accepted up to Nov. 6, and they have to be counted first.
“We are trying ensure one person, one ballot.”
Anyone who knows now they are going to vote in person instead of mailing a ballot has the option of visiting the voter registration office to cancel their mail-in ballot, thus saving time on Nov. 3. That has to be done by Oct. 26, Anderson said, since after that they’ll be preparing to print the poll books.
“We encourage people to do it here,” he said, “because it will take more steps at the precinct.”
Finally, Anderson urged people to remember their polling-place etiquette.
“Keep all of your political opinions to yourself, don’t bring them to the polling station,” he said. “We want everybody to be civil and patient.”
Also, he added, “we encourage people to wear masks on election day. I can’t mandate it, because I can’t take away someone’s right to vote, but remember that these are your neighbors and friends and co-workers who are volunteering to do their civic issue.
“This is not a political issue, wear a mask for the safety of others.”
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