With the 2020 Presidential Primary Election just around the corner, the Greene County Elections Office is informing registered area voters of significant changes in the state election process.
Last October, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law Act 77, an election reform bill that makes more significant improvements to Pennsylvania’s elections than in the last 80 years.
With the goal of allowing more convenient and secure voting for future elections, Act 77 provides most voters in the state the option to vote by mail-in ballot and to have more time to register and return their absentee or mail-in ballots.
In addition, the Act has provided $90 million in funding for new voting systems. For the 2020 Primary and future elections, Greene County will be utilizing this system.
Tina Kiger, Greene County Elections Office director, said the numerous changes installed by the Act are geared to making the voting process simpler and more efficient for future elections.
“Act 77 is bringing positive changes to how registered voters in Greene County cast their ballots,” she said. “And they will not only benefit the voters, they will also benefit the county and this office.”
According to Kiger, the Act 77 changes are as follows:
Absentee ballots are available for anyone who will be out of the municipality on Election Day or for those with illnesses or permanent disabilities.
Voters with a permanent disability may request to be placed on a permanent absentee voter list. These individuals will have an application mailed to them by the first week in February each year, which, if completed and returned, entitles them to receive ballots in the mail for all elections taking place in the remainder of the calendar year and for any special elections through the third week in February of the following year.
These “permanent” voters will require a Doctors affidavit, which will be found on the second page of the Absentee application.
Kiger said applications for absentee ballots must be in the election office by 5 p.m. the Tuesday before any election, and voted ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Kiger said Act 77 stipulates that any voter who votes a timely received absentee ballot is no longer eligible to vote at their respective polling place. If the voter requests but does not mail back their absentee ballot in time, they may still deliver the absentee ballot in person to the county election office until 8 p.m. on Election Day or may vote by provisional ballot at the polling place.
Kiger said mail-in balloting is a new option available to the voters in Pennsylvania. Unlike absentee ballots, voters requesting a mail-in ballot do not have to provide any reason or excuse for voting by mail.
Voters may request to be placed on a permanent mail-in voter list, and those who do so will have an application mailed to them by the first week in February each year. If voters complete and return them, they will be entitled to receive ballots in the mail for all elections taking place in the remainder of the calendar year and for any special elections through the third week in February of the following year.
“They will only be required to check the box in section seven of the application, and then they will be placed on the permanent list,” Kiger explained.
Kiger said for mail-in ballots, applications must be in the county election office by 5 p.m. the Tuesday before any election; and voted ballots must be received in the election office by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
According to Act 77, any voter who votes a timely received mail-in ballot will not be able to vote at the polling place. If the voter requests but does not mail back their mail-in ballot in time, they may still deliver the mail-in ballot in person to the county election office until 8 p.m. on Election Day or may vote by provisional ballot at the polling place.
Applying for an absentee or mail-in ballot
Kiger said voters can apply for either of these ballots online at votesPA.com, and applications are also available by request through the election office. She encourages voters to visit the election office to receive proper instructions for voting in Greene County.
Voter registration deadline
Kiger said the deadline for registering to vote in any election is now 15 days before Election Day, and the application must be in the county election office by close of business on the day of the deadline. Postmarks are no longer considered timely. For the April Primary, Kiger said the last day to register is April 13 at 4:30 p.m.
Straight party voting
Voters will no longer have a shortcut option to vote straight party. This only applies to November elections, as Primary ballots are “party” ballots, but voters do have the option to individually select only candidates from one party.
Kiger said these changes involve circulating petitions.
Circulators no longer need to be residents of the election district in which they are circulating petitions, and now need only to complete a statement for signature pages, rather than a notarized affidavit. Act 77 states that “old” petitions are not to be used, as they are no longer valid.
“Always get petition packets from our office,” Kiger said.
Stickers for write-in ballots
Kiger said the use of stickers and paste-on labels for write-in candidates is now prohibited. Write-in names must be either written or stamped.
In addition to informing voters about the Act 77 changes, Kiger also said the election office is currently seeking poll workers, and anyone interested should contact the elections office. Classes to train poll workers will be held April 13 and 14.
Residents are able to stop in to the election office and try out the new voting machine to become familiar with the system, and also review sample ballots.
The county debuted its new state-mandated voting machines in the 2019 May Primary. A total of 105 ExpressVote machines were unveiled in the county’s 42 voting precincts and were used again in the November general election. The machines, along with 41 scanners that read the ballots, were part of a contract totaling roughly $600,000.
With the new machines, voters are able to cast their votes with touch screen technology that prepares a paper record for tabulation. After reviewing their selection of candidates, voters will then print their paper ballot and put it in a scanner for counting. Kiger said the scanner will then drop the paper ballot into a waiting ballot box.
“The voters will use a ballot marking device: an electronic pen that marks the ballot,” Kiger said. “With the use of the new machines, we’ll have a verifiable paper trail if a recount is called for.”
Kiger also reminded area voters that only registered Democratic and Republican voters are eligible to cast their ballots in the April 28 Pennsylvania Primary.