Pa.’s Acting Secretary of State answers voting questions

Written by on October 18, 2021

Pa.’s Acting Secretary of State answers voting questions

By Megan Frank

October 18, 2021

Lehigh County’s top elections official, Tim Benyo, estimates two-thirds of mail-in votes may be counted by the end of 2020 election night. He and some other workers haven’t slept yet and that a small crew opened thousands of ballots last night. He’s unsure at the moment if they will pull another all-nighter. Photo| Tyler Pratt / WLVR

The Nov. 2 election is quickly approaching. 

The Pennsylvania Department of State oversees the commonwealth’s elections. The agency is led by Veronica Degraffenreid, who assumed the role of acting secretary of state on Feb. 8. In a wide-ranging conversation, WLVR’s Megan Frank asks her about election security, USPS mail delays — and the future of mail-in ballots. Here’s an edited transcript of their conversation.

Megan Frank

“Acting Secretary Degraffenreid, thanks for making some time for me.”

Veronica Degraffenreid

“Absolutely.”

Frank

“So, if people plan to vote by mail for this election, what should they keep in mind?”

Degraffenreid

“The most important thing is that there’s a deadline. So, the deadline to request a mail ballot is Oct. 26. That’s one week before the [Nov. 2] election. We encourage them to follow the instructions that are provided.” 

Frank

“So, we’ve heard from the U.S. post office that there are going to be mail delays. Should people consider dropping off their ballot instead of mailing?”

Degraffenreid

“Certainly, if voters want to hand-deliver those ballots, or submit them to the drop-off locations, we would encourage that. In the event that a voter believes that they will not have time to return their mail ballot in time for the deadline, [which is] 8 p.m. on Election Day, a voter can always take that ballot in-person to their polling place on Election Day, surrender the ballot, and they will be offered a provisional ballot. Then they will be allowed to vote in-person.”

Frank

“I wanted to ask you about the difference between a mail-in ballot and an absentee ballot.”

Degraffenreid

“They’re both voting by mail. An absentee, a traditional absentee ballot, is the long standing, pre-existing law that allowed people who had an excuse. Perhaps they’re not going to be in their county or in their precinct on Election Day. Perhaps they have some type of physical impairment or they’re sick. And so that’s traditional. But, because of the bipartisan legislation that was passed in 2019, Act 77,  it allows for all voters to request a ballot without having an excuse. Over four million of our Commonwealth voters elected to vote by mail in 2020.”

Frank

“Speaking of the 2020 election, mail-in ballots became a point of controversy because some people made false claims about the security of voting by mail. Can you speak to the security of mail-in ballots and what measures are taken to keep the process secure?”

Degraffenreid

“First of all, persons applying for a mail ballot, I mean, they must be registered voters. Keep in mind that we have a statewide voter registration database system. So, any person who’s applying for a ballot, they are checked in the system to make sure that they are even registered. 

“When that application is processed, county election officials verify a voter’s eligibility before issuing them a ballot, including the voter’s ID information. Upon receiving that ballot, voters must enclose their ballot first in the inner secrecy envelope that indicates [it’s an] official election ballot. And then they seal the secrecy envelope, and they insert that into the pre-addressed, outer return envelope that has a barcode on it. And so with that barcode, a county can track that that is a ballot that has been issued to that specific voter. 

“Elections involve so many checks and balances that we want people to understand that they absolutely should have confidence in the process and certainly in the results.”

Frank

“Secretary, just one last question for you. In light of COVID-19, I know we talked earlier in this conversation and you said certainly with the pandemic, there was an uptick in people wanting to vote by mail. Do you anticipate that for the future?”

Degraffenreid

“So, what I know is that real people work, they go to school, they have other obligations that make it really difficult to only have voting between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Election Day. So, it may seem like those 13 hours, that’s a really long time, but real people, you know, have real challenges. And so, voting by mail is something that regardless, all voters have an opportunity, if they want to, to either request that their ballot is sent to them by mail or they can go in-person. Voting by mail, not only is it secure, but it’s also easy and convenient for real people.”

Frank

“Well, Acting Secretary Degraffenreid, I appreciate you answering all of my questions and I really enjoyed talking with you.”

Degraffenreid

“Thank you, Megan, I appreciate it so much.”

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