The presidential election-year brawl over funding the USPS and voting by mail has raised concerns — and panic — about how and whether every vote will be counted. It’s unlikely that any infusions of additional federal money for the postal service alone will be enough to allay the concerns. But the good news is that states and counties have other options to insure voting is protected. State and county governments should deploy whatever resources, procedures, and workers are needed to do the job.
States and counties must provide trustworthy service to everyone who seeks to exercise the right to vote, despite the pandemic. That includes insuring that those who prefer to vote in person, and those who work the polls, can do so safely. Voting in person should remain an option nationwide.
Although the Trump administration is attempting to block the use of ballot drop boxes in Pennsylvania, expanding their availability is essential. Widely used for years in other states, these locked, mailbox-like receptacles placed outside public buildings and other locations offer voters a way to convey their mail-in ballots, and election officials a secure place to collect them — without relying on the post office. Local election board workers regularly collect the ballots, including on election day. Far more ballot drop boxes at more locations are needed; in the July NJ primary, only 5 such boxes were available in all of Camden County’s 227 square miles.
Gov. Phil Murphy has since issued an executive order to at least double the number of ballot drop-off boxes available in every county on Nov. 3. And in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and several suburban counties are planning to set up as many as 27 early voting stations at various locations, where voters can hand-deliver their mail-in ballots.
President Trump makes frequent and frequently preposterous allegations about the purported risk of mail-in voting fraud. Serious allegations, such as those arising from mail-in municipal election ballots in Paterson, NJ last May, are rare. But the inefficiencies and delays plaguing postal service operations in Philadelphia raise legitimate concerns.
Currently, it’s much easier for New Jersey residents to vote by mail than it is for their Pennsylvania peers. All registered voters in the Garden State automatically receive a mail-in ballot, but Pennsylvanians must initially request one. Both states should make the mail-in ballots available earlier, and deadlines should be adjusted to accommodate mail-in ballots sent by Election Day but received later.
Pennsylvania and New Jersey also should pay for comprehensive public service advertising campaigns, particularly on TV (not just online or on radio) to educate as many potential mail-in voters as possible. It’s important for people who want to vote by mail to understand that the practice has been around since the late 19th century; that it can and does work well; and that they need not rely solely on the postal system to utilize the option.