Lehigh and Northampton counties prepare for deluge of mail-in primary ballots and implement measures to keep everyone safe on Election Day

Written by on June 1, 2020

 Lehigh and Northampton counties prepare for deluge of mail-in primary ballots and implement measures to keep everyone safe on Election Day

By Haley O’Brien

June 2, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic will not stop the coming of Pennsylvania’s Primary Election today. But it has caused tens of thousands of voters to mail in their votes instead of appearing in person at their local polling place. 

WLVR’s Haley O’Brien has more on what voters can expect.

“It’s been a challenge, it’s been significantly more work than this office is used to, even in a presidential year this is completely unprecedented, so it’s been quite an adjustment,” said  Amy Cozze, chief registrar of Northampton County Elections. 

Usually, she says, Northampton County sends out about 1,000 mail-in ballots to be filled in and returned. This election, she received 47,000 applications for ballots. 

“Well, there’s going to be two elections going on. There’s going to be one here, where we’re counting 40,000 paper ballots, and there is going to be another one in person at the polling precincts with the new voting equipment.”

Governor Wolf made changes to Pennsylvania’s voting process last year, making it possible for anyone to vote by mail.

A similar scenario plays out in Lehigh County where Timothy Benyo, chief clerk of Lehigh County Elections explains what he is dealing with.

“Well, it’s definitely been crazy. We just finished mailing out 47,907 mail ballots, which has never been done before,” said Benyo.

Some completed paper ballots have been received already. But counting can’t begin until the polls open on election day.

“We’re starting the process at 7am with multiple teams working on high speed scanners. What slows us down is there are two envelopes for each ballot, the outside envelope and the secrecy envelope where the ballot is contained. We have to make sure it’s in order and accurate, and make sure we have a process. So I’m not rushing to get it done, it’s going to be done accurately and with the best efficiency that I can manage,” said Benyo.

Cozze concurs.

 “I’ve been very hesitant to speculate on how long it will take because we’ve never done anything on this scale before, we kind of created a model to see how long it would take to de-envelope a ballot, and flatten it and prepare it. So we are hoping to have a solid chunk of results shortly after 8pm but I sincerely doubt we will have completed results for many hours after that,” she said. 

Another challenge this year is a shortage of poll workers. High risk seniors and others worried about exposure to COVID-19 while working a 14-shift are staying home rather than risk exposure. Benyo says they’ve implemented strict social distancing protocols to try and keep everyone safe.

“We’ll have markings on the floor, like supermarkets, keeping people at a safe distance. Poll workers will be geared up with masks, gloves, and face shields. We do ask that voters bring their own pens, there will be pens available that will be sanitized and cleaned on a regular interval,” he said. 

State officials say all voters should wear masks, but don’t have plans to enforce those guidelines. Cozze is strongly encouraging voters to consider the wellbeing of those running the election when they come out.

“We are strongly encouraging that all voters wear masks and gloves, mainly out of respect for the poll workers. They are taking on this civic responsibility, it’s a very long day and a very trying time, so we are asking the voters to please be respectful to them.

Following some glitches with Northampton County’s new voting machines last November, Cozze says each machine has been checked out, bugs worked out, and election officials are confident they are ready to go.

To confirm a polling place or a place to drop off a paper ballot before 8 p.m. today, on Election Day, visit votespa.com.


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