PA elections chief concerned about voter intimidation, says primary results will be delayed
Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Leigh Chapman voiced concerns about voter intimidation in one Pennsylvania county where a district attorney plans to have detectives watch a drop box.
Her remarks came Thursday as she addressed questions from the news media about the May 17 primary.
Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin plans to have detectives monitor drop boxes, and anyone who drops off more than one ballot could face a fine or jail time, media outlets have reported. Voters are only allowed to return their own ballot unless they have a disability and a designated agent to submit it.
Martin has told news media an investigation showed "hundreds" of voters turned in more than one ballot during the 2021 election.
Chapman said no evidence exists of widespread voter fraud through ballot drop boxes.
"I'm very concerned about what's happening in Lehigh County," she said. "You know, there's a long history in this country of a voter intimidation and the mere presence of police at a drop box can deter voters from casting their ballots."
On Thursday, Chapman sent a letter to Martin, outling her concerns with law enforcement officers monitoring the ballot drop boxes. She explained that an eligible voter who is also an authorized designated agent will deposit more than one ballot into the box.
If officers question individuals dropping off ballots, it could inadvertently lead to selective enforcement or intimidation, she said in the letter.
"Your efforts 'to enforce the law' may very well adversely impact the fundamental right to vote for eligible voters, particularly those who are unable to drop off their ballot for themselves due to a disability," she said.
Chapman wrote that it is her duty to ensure that voters can continue to cast their ballots without interference and that elections in the state continue to run securely, freely and fairly.
"In furtherance of that duty, I believe that it is important for me to request that you do not station law enforcement outside of ballot drop boxes in Lehigh County," she wrote in the letter.
But Seth Grove, R-York County, issued a statement Friday, calling it a "false claim" that having detectives monitor drop boxes would intimidate voters.
Non-uniformed county detectives monitoring the drop boxes would not stop legal votes − only the ones that are illegal, he said.
“The detectives in Lehigh County will have one job: To make sure a voter only casts his or her ballot," Grove said in a news release. "I commend Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin for taking this initiative to ensure state election law is followed.”
Where's the ballot drop box?
Twenty-two counties offer at least one drop box, Chapman said.
Some counties offer multiple drop boxes and allow voters to use them round the clock. Other counties set times when a drop box is available.
York County, which has offered a drop box in the past, does not have one for the primary. It will, however, have drive-up events for voters to return their ballots.
To see which counties have drop boxes, visit vote.pa.gov.
Mail ballots to be expedited by US postal service
The United States Postal Service and the Pennsylvania Department of State have a close partnership, and election mail is expedited, Chapman said.
During a recent meeting, officials were told the current delivery standard is around three days.
"... We are encouraging voters to return their ballots as soon as possible," whether it be through the mail, a drop box or in person at their county election office.
Postmarks do not count, and the ballot must be in the local elections office by 8 p.m. May 17.
Election 2022:Your guide to the Pennsylvania primary
Will results be available on election night?
"While we hope to have unofficial results on primary election night, we prioritize accuracy and security above all else," Chapman said during her remarks. "Therefore we ask for your patience as counties count every vote."
Under Pennsylvania law, counties cannot begin pre-canvassing absentee and mail-in ballots until 7 a.m. on election day, a spokesperson for the Department of State said. Some counties will not be finished tabulating those results on election night.
Voters can find the results of the primary online at electionreturns.pa.gov.
Voting by the numbers
Number of registered voters: More than 8,735,000
Number of voters registered as Democrats: More than 4 million
Number of voters registered as Republicans: 3.4 million
Number of mail ballots requested: More than 762,000
Number of absentee ballot requests: More than 90,000