The culture around Election Day – which has among its traditions the late-night, nail-biting gatherings of party supporters to watch as the results roll in – are changing in the age of mail-in ballots and COVID-19.

“The whole traditional Election Night routine has been totally disrupted by the pandemic and mail-in voting,” Dan Sidelnick, chairman of the Lebanon County Democratic Committee, said earlier this week.

“Gathering in a dark, dusty room in the time of COVID doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said. “We talked about having a Zoom meeting that people could drop into … but having a meeting to watch the votes come in is kind of superfluous when we won’t have conclusive numbers from Pennsylvania for a day or two.”

As of Tuesday, Republican Committee chairman Ed Lynch said the county GOP “has not made any formal plans for Election Night activities.”

Republicans gather at the Lincoln Republican Club on the eve of then-DA Dave Arnold’s election to the state senate. The scene this Election Day will be very different. (Will Trostel)

“The passage of Act 77 and subsequent Pennsylvania Supreme Court rulings have extended the deadline to accept mail-in-ballots until Nov. 6 and this has obviously altered the entire dynamic of election night gatherings,” Lynch said. Even so, he added, “I will be in the Lebanon GOP office with several other key personnel monitoring the Lebanon County results and I am confident that we will be able to determine the successful candidates for our local races based upon the in-person voting tallies from Election Day and the mail-in ballots received prior to Nov. 1.”

In the meantime, both party leaders are doing their best to ensure their voters get to the polls, in whatever capacity they have chosen to vote.

Lynch said the Lebanon County GOP “will be conducting our usual Election Day operations as we have in all previous election cycles regardless of the political offices on the ballot.”

That includes providing volunteers and workers at the polls, getting poll watchers out and staffing the phone banks, he said.

“I will be at the Lebanon GOP office on Election Day,” Lynch said, “but I also will be visiting the various polling precincts in Lebanon County to thank our volunteers.”

Staff will be on hand at the GOP office to answer calls and offer assistance to the public, he added, and volunteers will be available to drive voters to the polls if they need transportation.

Sidelnick said the Democrats will also have an observer at the county elections office to watch as workers there begin to open and scan mail-in ballots.

“We just finished a major voter registration program and are constantly working to help voters get information about their mail in ballots and polling place info,” he said. “The Democratic Committee is offering voters free rides to the polls on Election Day and transportation to the courthouse if needed to turn in their mail-in ballot to be certain it will be counted. There are still several last-minute campaign events being planned and we are coordinating with the PA Democratic Party and the Biden Campaign to insure a safe and fair election process between now and the final vote tally.”

“This is a crazy election year. … It’s a whole new environment,” he added. “But Election Day is Election Day. People will vote, and we’ll see what happens.”

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Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.


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