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Elections official says Centre County drop boxes will close Monday at 9 a.m. to aid non-stop counting

Allegheny County workers scan mail-in and absentee ballots at the Allegheny County Election Division Elections warehouse in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022.
Gene J. Puskar
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AP
Allegheny County workers scan mail-in and absentee ballots at the Allegheny County Election Division Elections warehouse in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. The ballots will not be counted until 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

Pennsylvania counties that accepted Election Integrity Grant Program funding from the state under Act 88 have to follow some new guidelines on how they run this election. WPSU’s Emily Reddy talked with Michael Pipe, a Centre County commissioner and the elections board vice-chair, about what changes counties will have to make.

The big one: Counties that took the money are required to count mail-in ballots without stopping until they're done. That's led Centre County to change the time when drop boxes close from 8 p.m. on Election Day to Monday at 9 a.m., so they can start working through those ballots earlier.

Commissioner Michael Pipe at his desk
Anne Danahy
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WPSU
Commissioner Michael Pipe says Centre County is closing drop boxes Monday at 9 a.m. so they can meet the new non-stop mail-in ballot processing requirements that come with accepting Act 88 elections money from the state.

Here's the interview with Michael Pipe:

Emily Reddy 
Michael Pipe, thanks for taking some time in what is probably a very busy time to talk with us.

Michael Pipe 
Absolutely. Happy to do it.

Emily Reddy 
So, all but a few counties got this money from the state. One of the changes that might affect voters most is that in some counties drop boxes will close earlier. Last time, Centre County voters could put mail-in ballots and drop boxes until polls closed at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. What's the deadline this time?

Michael Pipe 
So, many counties are doing it differently when they're closing. Some are closing early. Some are closing at 8 p.m. on election night. For Centre County, we wanted to make sure that we were in compliance with Act 88. And so we wanted to have enough time where our staff could retrieve ballots from drop boxes, organize them, get them prepared for the opening on Election Day, and then get them to that room where it's going to happen. And so we felt that that was the best course of action this year. So we're certainly trying to get the word out about Monday, November 7, the day before the election, of the closure at 9 a.m. of those drop boxes. However, individuals can still come to the Willowbank Building and Bellefonte to drop them off in person up to 8 p.m. 7:59, technically, on Election Day.

Emily Reddy 
I was going to ask what happens if you find out "Oh, I've got this mail-in ballot!" They can also take them to their regular polling place and and vote in person instead?

Michael Pipe 
That's correct. That's another option. If voters have the packet that they were sent in the mail or picked up at our elections office to vote by mail, they can go to their polling location and surrender that packet and they will be provided a same-day ballot. If as a voter you don't know where you put that, the mail-in ballot, you can't find it, you can still go to your polling location, and you'll receive a provisional ballot that will still allow you to vote. And provided that you do not turn in your mail-in ballot to the Willowbank Building on Election Day, the provisional ballot will be counted.

Emily Reddy 
And these are mail-in ballots. So you could also put it in the mail. But then it has to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, is that right?

Michael Pipe 
That's correct. And the thing that we are stressing to voters is to please hand deliver. As we come into the last final days, we are hearing of delays from the USPS.

Emily Reddy 
And it's been in the courts whether to count mail-in ballots that aren't properly dated. Will those votes be counted in Centre County if voters didn't put the date on their envelope?

Michael Pipe 
As of November 3, in the morning, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has ordered counties not to count them. It would not surprise any of us if there was further litigation. As of today, we will not be counting them. But certainly expect more lawsuits in the days to come.

Emily Reddy 
And because of that Act 88 funding counties now have to count ballots around-the-clock. You know, no going home at midnight for some rest and starting again at 8 or 9 a.m. How will that affect operations in Centre County, and other counties that are making this change?

Michael Pipe 
We have done elections in the past where we have done around-the-clock or prepped for that. We have done other elections, especially last year in 2021, where we've counted up to a certain point on Tuesday night, pause and then come back Wednesday morning. With Act 88, if you accepted funds from the state, which Centre County did, we have to basically count continuously. And the way that we're reading that is that there's no break in the action. And so by closing drop boxes a bit early, that allows for us to process those ballots and get them ready. So there's a lot of moving parts. And just because this is the first election we're doing since Act 88 passed, we just wanted to take all precautions. We could see for future elections, potentially, those drop boxes staying open later. But for right now, this is the best course of action we believe in.

Emily Reddy 
Are there any other changes voters should know about?

Michael Pipe 
Act 77 from 2019, just to remind people, some people ask, "Where's the straight party part of the ballot?" Act 77 removed the straight party part. So, if you do wish to vote a straight party, you still need to go through every single contest and vote that. That's one of the changes we still get a few questions about

Emily Reddy 
Michael Pipe, thanks for talking with us.

Michael Pipe 
Always. Thank you very much, Emily.

Emily Reddy is the news director at WPSU-FM, the NPR-affiliate public radio station for central and northern Pennsylvania.
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