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County works through changes, provides secure election process

PHOTO PROVIDED Clinton County hired two employees to help with the increased workload in the office of Clinton County Voter Registration/Elections Maria Boileau. On Tuesday, Marie Sanner and Wendy Walsh were busy preparing new registration identification cards to be mails out. Looking on were, from left, Boileau, and county commissioners Angela Harding, Miles Kessinger and Jeff Snyder.

LOCK HAVEN — Elections are always an interesting time in Clinton County.

But this year, the interest… and workload… has reached a higher level, with changes in voter laws, more options on how voters can cast ballots, an extension of the deadline for receiving ballots, and release of official numbers not expected until a week after the election.

“This is new to everybody,” Clinton County Commissioner Miles Kessinger said Tuesday as he and fellow commissioners Jeff Snyder and Angela Harding joined Clinton County Director of Voter Registration/Elections Maria J. Boileau to talk about what voters can expect on Election Day, Nov. 3.

“The pandemic has thrown a big wrench into this year’s election. There will be nothing going on election night here at the Piper Building,” Kessinger said. “Due to the pandemic restrictions, poll workers will simply just drop off ballots at the end of the night and go home.”

“There will be no need for them to stick around, as in the past. We won’t have any totals available that night. Counting of ballots will go into the next week,” Snyder said.

In previous years, poll workers gathered in the courthouse and watched as the votes from 34 precincts arrived at the courthouse, often sticking around until the last precinct was counted and unofficial county winners were known.

This year, however, a lot is different.

Absentee and mail-in ballots have been coming into the Piper Building for weeks

The deadline for those ballots hand-delivered or dropped into collection boxes at the Piper Building is 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.

As for mail, any mail-in ballots postmarked by 5 p.m. Election Day and delivered to the Piper Building by 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, will be counted.

To date, Boileau reported 4,567 mail-in and absentee ballots have been issued.

“And I have 267 applications now to be sent out,” she said. The deadline to apply for an absentee or mail-in ballot is Tuesday, Oct. 27.

“People can come to my office anytime during business hours, fill out an application, receive a mail-in ballot and vote all at the same visit,” Boileau said. “With this option, there is no need for mail at all, and you can cast your vote at your convenience.”

“People are really into it this year,” Snyder said of the number of mail-in ballots. “We expect a very high voter turnout. The numbers are always higher when a president is running, but with other factors, they could be even higher.”

“There’s been a steady stream,” Snyder said of those choosing to cast their votes early via mail-in or absentee ballots. “Many are fearful of standing in line on election day due to COVID-19.”

Commissioner Harding said all mail-in ballots received are being kept in the secured envelopes and won’t be opened until 7 a.m. on the day of the election. Two collection boxes for mail-in ballot voters erected outside the courthouse locked and emptied twice a day. Also, a security camera has been installed and is under supervision of the sheriff’s department.

Voters will notice a change on the ballots this year.

“Straight-party voting will no longer be available on the ballots… it’s part of the new voter law,” Kessinger said. “Voters will have to select their choice of a candidate for each office on the ballot.”

“Proponents pushing for eliminating the straight-party voting option described it as a way to get voters to consider each race individually and to vote for the candidate instead of the party,” Harding explained.

Kessinger said Pennsylvania was one of only eight states that allowed straight-party voting when the change was made in October 2019, and this is the first election to see straight-party voting eliminated.

Some who have received mail-in ballots have reported they have changed their minds and now want to stand in line at their poll and cast their vote on Election Day as they have in the past.

“That’s OK, here’s what to do,” Boileau said.

“You can take your ballot and the pre-addressed outer return envelope to your polling place to be voided. After you surrender your ballot and envelope and sign a declaration, you can vote a regular ballot.

“Or, if you don’t surrender your ballot and return envelope, you can only vote by a provisional ballot at your polling place. Your county board of elections will then verify that you did not vote by mail before counting your provisional ballot,” she explained.

The election is definitely different this year, and the county commissioners say they have done everything in their power to make it a safe and secure election.

They encourage those going to the polls to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 by wearing a mask, practicing good hand hygiene, maintaining social distance, following instructions from poll workers and being patient.

“We have taken every precaution to make this a safe place to vote. We’ve purchased 20,000 pens, so every voter gets a pen and then takes it home. There will be no sharing of pens,” Kessinger said.

Harding said, “I hope the people of Clinton County will be respectful of each other, go in and vote and not cause any issues for the poll workers or voters. Between the pollworkers, Maria and her staff, over 100 people have been working to see this goes off with a hitch.

“We have dedicated poll workers who are well trained and have safety guidelines in place for those who vote at the polls. We ask those who vote at the polls to wear masks… out of respect for our poll workers,” Harding said.

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