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Allegheny County Clears Mail-In Ballot Application Backlog, Finalizes Election Details

Carrie Antlfinger

The Allegheny County Elections Division has managed to completely process all of the mail-in ballot applications it has received so far, with two weeks to go until the November election, and is working around the clock to finalize other important details -- all while being swamped with questions from voters.

“We’ve processed applications for 384,000 registered voters,” Elections Division Manager Dave Voye said Tuesday at the Board of Elections meeting. “I have 12,000 being dropped off at the Pittsburgh post office tonight. I’m sending the next batch to our printer, Midwest Direct, 5,000 tonight. Besides that, we’re up to date. Everything will be in the mail.”

Voye also noted that voters who requested their ballots in September or early October and have not received them by this weekend can get them reissued at a satellite election office this weekend. The new allowance does not apply to voters who were reissued ballots after last week’s debacle in which nearly 29,000 ballots were sent to the wrong voters.

The three-member Elections Board had a lot of questions about the snafu, which was caused by an error on the part of Midwest Direct, the vendor the county is using to print and mail ballots. The bad ballots were sent to voters with the wrong municipality, ward, and district.

 “If someone mailed one of those mistaken ballots, how would we be sure that vote wouldn’t be counted – double-voted?” asked Allegheny County Executive and board member Rich Fitzgerald.

Voye assured the board that all voters who got an incorrect ballot had been mailed a new one by last Saturday, and that any incorrect ballots that had been voted and returned – because the voter didn’t realize it was the wrong ballot – were quickly separated out from the ballots the county has received. Re-issued ballots have an orange stripe on the envelope and a notice to voters explaining why their ballot had to be reissued.

If the voter doesn’t complete and return their reissued ballot, the county will tabulate their votes for statewide races like the presidency, and for any other races appropriate to where they live.

County Councilor Sam DeMarco also expressed concerns about double-voting, saying he was worried that voters would mail back the re-issued ballot as instructed, but then try to take the bad ballot to their polling place on election day to surrender it and vote provisionally.

Voye said that supplementary poll books at polling places will show who has returned their ballot by October 27. Unique barcodes on ballots prohibit a voter from being able to vote more than once.

Thousands Of New Voters, Thousands Of Questions

About 10,000 people in Allegheny County applied to vote on Monday – the last day to register in Pennsylvania -- according to the elections division. Since the June 2 primary, 38,600 people registered to vote, bringing the county total to about 937,000. The party split for those voters is close: 14,926 registered as Democrats and 14,725 registered as Republicans. The remainder registered with other parties.

Between questions from new voters, votes who have questions about voting by mail, and other concerns, Voye said the division has been overwhelmed with calls.

“We’re receiving between 7,000 and 8,000 calls per day,” Voye said, noting that the elections division has transferred a lot of calls to the county call center to try to alleviate some of the burden. “We’re starting to get our head above water.”

But Voye said the sheer number of incoming calls has made it challenging to finalize other important details – like assigning poll workers to polling places.

“That’s what’s giving me the most concern,” Voye said. “We do have a large pool [of poll workers] to call, we just haven’t been able to make outgoing calls.”

Still, Voye said he’s “very comfortable” that they’ll be able to assign workers to polling places in time for the election.

Finally, the board approved a motion to authorize the county’s precanvass of ballots -- the process of preparing the votes for scanning and tabulating -- should the state legislature pass a bill allowing counties to begin counting ballots before 7 a.m. on Election Day.