Pennsylvania remains in the spotlight this week as the nation debates the various issues involved in massive mail-in voting and how it may impact the results of the election in November. Not being set up to handle millions of people voting by mail, the Keystone State is working to provide more options for residents to cast their votes. These efforts include the option of voting early at a limited number of in-person polling places where mail-in ballots could be dropped off. We can debate the merits of early voting at another time, but at least some voters in Philadelphia will be able to make their voices heard in advance and get this chore out of the way and be done with it.
Or at least that was the plan, anyway. But when hundreds of people showed up recently to do precisely that, an unpleasant surprise awaited them. There were long lines of people standing around and hoping to submit their ballots, but the state’s computerized ballot system had collapsed as soon as the polls opened and voting was not yet possible. (CBS Philadelphia)
Today was the first day for voters in Philadelphia to start dropping off their mail-in ballots in person. The hope is these satellite centers will make it even easier for those voters who are a bit confused about where to go or how to vote.
Excitement was in the air at the Liacouras Center as the first person dropped off their mail-in ballot, but there were a few hiccups on the first day.
The state computerized voting system was down when the satellite centers first opened, leaving some people on line for over an hour-and-a-half.
“We had two issues: people unable to log in and then connecting to the printers over the same network,” Deputy Commissioner Nick Custodio said.
Seven satellite voting centers opened in Philly today, but there were a few hiccups with the system. Some folks ended up waiting on line for over 1.5 hours before getting access. pic.twitter.com/kq1JXFVQKv
— Alecia Reid (@alecia__reid) September 29, 2020
I suppose we can look at this in one of two ways. If you’re more of an optimist, you can think of these snags as mere bumps in the road that provide a chance to work out the glitches in the system before the voting traffic becomes far heavier on election day. And for all we know, maybe that’s how it will work out.
But at the same time, Pennsylvania’s Board of Elections is setting sail on some relatively uncharted waters here. It’s true that they’ve always had provisions for absentee ballots just like the rest of the states, but they were generally few in number and they were almost always mailed in. That’s the whole idea of having absentee ballots. People who are “absent” can mail in their choices. Now they’re faced with a potential flood of millions of ballots and they need a way for people who really have no excuse to not vote in person to show up and physically drop them off because they can’t trust the USPS to get the job done without the potential of errors or even malfeasance.
Because of state laws concerning the way such ballots are processed, they can’t just set up a big bin and tell people to shove their ballots in like the night-deposit receptacles at a bank. Each ballot has to be verified, signatures must be compared and checked against the voter rolls to ensure nobody is inadvertently (or even intentionally) voting twice. All of that takes time and a functional system capable of processing all of those ballots in a smooth fashion.
That’s apparently not happening yet, or at least not consistently. And we’re only talking about a relative handful of people here. (They estimated that roughly 150 people were left waiting in a city with a population of nearly 1.6 million.) The problems they ran into seem generic enough, involving operators being unable to log into the system and then not being able to have the system connect to the printers. Sounds like a fairly routine problem for the IT department, right? But the point is, they didn’t have it set up properly by the time the first day of early voting rolled around. Will all of the voting centers have these glitches worked out before November 3rd?
In 2016, just shy of six million Pennsylvania residents voted in the presidential election. All but a relative handful of them voted in person using various types of electronic voting machines. Turnout this year could be even higher, with potentially millions of people wanting to drop off their completed ballots at a designated voting center. Having the system drop out on them like this in even a limited number of places is going to result in massive lines of people who are frustrated about not being able to participate in a timely fashion. Somebody in Pennsylvania needs to get off the stick and straighten this out immediately.