Mail-in ballots a success in Centre County
BELLEFONTE — The votes are in, but they’re still being tabulated.
In Centre County, voter turnout was low on Election Day, but the mail-in ballots were a success and everything went smoothly, according to Centre County Director of Elections Joyce McKinley.
“It was a light turnout, but there were no major issues,” she said.
McKinley said that the COVID-19 pandemic may have affected the turnout. A total of 13,487 voters went to the polls to cast ballots for the Democratic or Republican nominees for November’s general election. McKinley said that many voters opted for the mail-in ballots. A total 22,070 ballots were mailed to eligible voters.
Tabulating the mail-in ballots is a process, McKinley said.
“It was good for the first time,” McKinley said of the mail-in ballot process.
Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe, chair of the Centre County Boaragreed.
“The count of the vote-by-mail ballots is going very well. We had 19,050 total absentee ballots and mail-in ballots returned by the 8 p.m. deadline on Election Day,” Pipe said. “We counted 5,000 of them on Tuesday, 5,900 on Wednesday, and we will finish the count of the rest of them — about 8,000 — by Friday afternoon. Results will be posted on the county website by COB on Friday and also uploaded to the Pennsylvania Department of State.”
Pipe said that he’s not sure when the Pennsylvania Department of State will post to the state’s election results page.
It was the first Pennsylvania election in which any eligible voter could opt for a mail-in ballot without an excuse, made possible by bipartisan legislation signed into law last fall. State officials believed voters would gradually adopt mail-in voting, with an expected 15 to 20 percent increase in the first year.
In the wake of public health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, requests for mail-in ballots spiked. Across Pennsylvania, more than 1.8 million voters requested a mail-in ballot.
According to Pipe, mail-in ballots are a safe way for voters to cast their ballots.
“Voting by mail is a safe and secure way for people to participate in the greatest experiment the world has ever seen: American democracy. Last year, Pennsylvania joined 33 other states in allowing voting by mail without an excuse. We are not alone in our pursuit of making it easier, not harder, for our citizens to express their opinions about the elected officials who want to run our country, commonwealth, counties and communities,” Pipe said.
Voters who went to the polls in Centre County and around the Commonwealth were asked to wear masks. There were also hand sanitizing stations and each voter was given a fresh pen, which they kept. They had until 8 p.m. Tuesday to return completed ballots to the county elections office. Election officials were allowed to begin counting mail-in ballots on Tuesday morning, but were not permitted to report any results until after polls closed.
The primary was a good test run for the mail-in option for the general election. McKinley said that turnout is expected to be “much bigger” due to the 2020 presidential election.
In the primary, in-person voter turnout represented only about 15 percent of Centre County’s 89,121 registered Republicans and Democrats. More than twice as many Republicans (9,002) went to the polls in person than Democrats (4,485). Statewide, however, more than twice as many Democrats requested mail-in ballots than Republicans.
Centre County has 46,278 registered Democrats and 42,843 registered Republicans.
All eyes will be on the presidential race in November. In the primary, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden were declared winners of the Republican and Democratic nominations for president in Pennsylvania.
Among in-person ballots in Centre County on the Democratic side, Biden won 64.1 percent of the vote, Bernie Sanders took 30.5 percent and Tulsi Gabbard 5.24 percent.
On the Republican side, Trump won 94.87 percent of the vote and Bill Weld took 3.75 percent.
One race that is still up in the air is the Democratic nominee for state auditor general. Scott Conklin — who was also unopposed on the Democratic ballot for re-election as state representative for the 77th District — was in fourth place statewide as of Thursday morning. With about nine percent of the vote, he trailed Michael Lamb (36 percent), Nina Ahmad (29 percent) and Christina Hartman (12.29 percent). Conklin is followed by Tracie Fountain (8.0 percent) and Rose Marie Davis (6.8 percent).
Michael DeFoor was unopposed on the Republican ballot for auditor general.
Here are the winners in other key races on Election Day:
Attorney General — Democrat: Josh Shapiro (incumbent); Republican: Heather Heidelbaugh.
Treasurer — Democrat: Joseph Torsella (incumbent); Republican: Stacy Garrity.
12th Congressional District — Democrat: Lee Griffin; Republican: Fred Keller (incumbent).
15th Congressional District — Democrat: Robert Williams; Republican: Glenn Thompson (incumbent).
State Representative 76th District — Democrat: Joseph Waltz; Republican: Stephanie Borowicz (incumbent).
State Representative 77th District — Democrat: Scott Conklin (incumbent); Republican: Stephen Yetsko.
State Representative 81st District — Democrat: Ian Kidd; Republican: Richard Irvin (incumbent).
State Representative 171st District — Democrat: Peter Buck; Republican: Kerry Benninghoff (incumbent).
Election Day is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 3.