The Bucks County Board of Elections voted Thursday to provide voters with 11 ballot drop boxes for November’s general election.
The board, composed of the three Bucks County commissioners, voted 2 - 1 in favor of adding seven new drop boxes at area libraries to the four existing boxes used in the May 18 primary.
Commissioners Diane Ellis-Marseglia and Bob Harvie voted in favor of the additional boxes and locations. Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo voted no, saying he favored a smaller expansion of two or three new boxes.
The elections board also voted, unanimously, to provide in-person security for each drop box, but only for the purposes of this year’s municipal election. A deputy sheriff, peace officer or Board of Elections worker would be situated at each drop box.
Marseglia said she was skeptical that this level of security is necessary, “but I’ll do anything to keep this county in the bipartisan way that it’s been and to increase confidence in voting.”
“We may be the only county staffing ballot boxes, and I think a lot of that has to do with misinformation that has been put in the mainstream over the past year,” Harvie said, referring to false claims of election fraud.
The placement of the seven new boxes is also contingent on acquiring the necessary security cameras for each locations, along with any leases or licenses required for use of the libraries. The libraries must also have sufficient room to locate the boxes on the inside of the buildings.
In the 2020 elections, the county used drop boxes at its offices in Quakertown, Doylestown and Levittown. A fourth drop box, at the Yardley-Makefield Free Library in Lower Makefield, was added for the May 2021 primary.
The seven new locations would be:
“We tried to space them out so people can get to them throughout the county,” Harvie said. “The idea of using libraries is that they have hours that include nights and weekends and will hopefully get people interested in what else the libraries offer.”
The Riegelsville location is still being evaluated, due to its smaller indoor area and shorter hours of operation.
Bucks has about 475,000 registered voters. Eleven locations would provide about one drop box per 43,000 voters. Harvie said he prefers a ratio of one drop box per 30,000 voters.
Bucks County received 38,759 mail-in ballots in the May primary election. Of that total, 9,313 – or 24 percent – were received via drop boxes.
Another 1,300 mail-in ballots were postmarked on or before Election Day but received too late to be counted.
Earlier this week, the county commissioners sent letters to Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick and U.S. Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, asking them to call on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to investigate and rectify ongoing deficiencies in the U.S. Postal Service that resulted in voter disenfranchisement.
The commissioners, along with other public officials throughout the state, have consistently demanded that state legislators make changes in Pennsylvania’s election laws that, among other things, could lessen the need for drop boxes. Changing the deadlines for requesting and distributing mail-in ballots are among the revisions the commissioners are seeking.
DiGirolamo, a former state representative, expressed disappointment that lawmakers went home for summer recess without addressing ballot drop boxes, ballot pre-canvassing procedures and election funding.
“There is nothing more important than our election process and people being able to vote. This is democracy at work, and we need help,” DiGirolamo said, pointing out that Bucks is the fourth largest county in the state.
“I’m begging our legislature and our governor to come up with a compromise – put it in statues so we know what we’re working with.”
Last August, the elections board wrote to Harrisburg, seeking legislative changes to address issues with Act 77, the state’s new elections law. The board is still waiting on a response.
“This is just an example, again, of how the legislature failed us,” Marseglia said.
The board on Thursday also approved an eventual switch to e-polling books, which are the books voters sign before they vote at their precinct. Select polling locations tested the electronic method in May and only positive feedback was received.
The change will save the county from purchasing some 17 boxes of paper and 20 ink cartridges every election, with election security grant money used to convert to the electronic format.
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