en flag
es flag

There is no such thing as a stress-free election. An enormous amount of work goes in to preparing for a single day where failure is not an option, but the potential for it lurks around every corner.

This year is going to be especially challenging because of repeated delays including at the Pennsylvania Department of State. The 2020 Census led to a redrawing of the district lines and lawsuits caused those boundaries to shift several times. This resulted in the slowdown in candidates getting signatures on their petitions which led to a delay in certifying the ballot which caused a postponement in printing out the mail-in ballots.

Since Act 77 passed in 2019, citizens have had the option to vote by mail up to 50 days before an election without providing an excuse. The point of this legislation was to increase turnout—the more citizens participate in the process, the stronger our democracy becomes. The pandemic made voting by mail an attractive option for many of our citizens. Already, over 20,000 people have put in a request to vote by mail in the May 17th Primary.

Overall, the option of no-excuse mail-in ballots has been a positive one but it does come with challenges. Since 2020, Pennsylvania counties have had to run two elections on the same day—one at the polls and one scanning mail-in ballots. For the General Election in 2020 Northampton County recruited nearly 1,500 people to work and required an additional $1 million to cover the costs. Two elections means two sets of volunteers/staff and two different operations for our already busy Election’s staff to manage. Despite repeated requests from County Registrars, the legislature has refused to expand the time allowed to count the paper ballots. We can only begin opening the envelopes on Election Day at 7:00AM. If we had seven days to pre-canvass the mail-in ballots, it would make our job much easier.

Harrisburg’s delays in certifying the ballot this year has injected chaos into a system already struggling to avoid pitfalls. Ideally, voters should be able to get their mail-in ballots up to 50 days before the Election. This year, due to delayed certification, we weren’t able to start mailing ballots out until April 22nd—only 27 days before the Primary.

Northampton County is committed to making sure the election on May 17th will be held as scheduled with all 154 polling places fully staffed. For those who’ve chosen to vote via a mail-in or absentee ballot, it must be turned in by 8:00PM on Election night to be counted. Absentee and mail-in ballots can be brought directly to the Courthouse at 669 Washington Street in Easton, PA or put into one of our four secure ballot drop-off boxes at the Courthouse Rotunda, the EMS/911 Center, the DHS building or City Hall in Bethlehem. Postmarks will not count in this election so, for those who decide to mail their ballot in, make sure you allow at least seven days for delivery. Voters do not have to go through security to deposit their ballot in a secure ballot drop-off box, but please remember to only drop off your own ballot. Third party return of ballots is prohibited unless the person returning the ballot is rendering assistance to a disabled voter or an emergency absentee voter with a signed Certification of Designated Agent on file at the Elections Office. That form can be downloaded at vote.pa.gov

Pennsylvania’s Primary is closed so only registered Republicans and Democrats can vote for candidates, but East Allen Township has a referendum question on its ballot and any registered voter can vote on that.

The responsibility of running elections has always fallen on the shoulders of county government and it is a heavy responsibility. Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. For our citizens to have confidence in the process we must give our Registrars, their staff and our volunteers the tools and the time they need to do their work. Our Elections Office has had to scramble this year due to shifting deadlines and delays in Harrisburg. Northampton County is dedicated to providing a fair, legal and accurate election, but we need the Pennsylvania Department of State and the legislature to work with us, not to make our job more difficult by shifting the goalposts and engaging in never-ending political gamesmanship.

Information provided to TVL by:
Becky Bartlett
Deputy Director of Administration
Northampton County Government Center
669 Washington Street
Easton, PA 18042