After delays and lost ballots, Montgomery County says 200 voters will receive mail-in ballots on Saturday

With the primary election approaching on Tuesday, some voters in Montgomery County still had not received their ballots as of Friday, further complicating an already difficult voting situation due to Passover starting early next week.

Mail-in voting has already been delayed among voters in Montgomery County. County spokesperson Megan Alt said the delay was first due to “three necessary rounds of quality assurance” with the county’s voting system vendor, Dominion Voting Systems, and then due to a subsequent bottleneck at the county’s ballot supplier , the Blair County-based NPC. after Montgomery County submitted its files to the printer on April 2.

But as of Friday, some voters still had not received their ballots, even though county officials had told them they should receive them by then.

” READ MORE: The Voter’s Guide to the 2024 Pennsylvania Primary Election

The U.S. Postal Service notified Montgomery County officials Friday evening that about 200 ballots that were supposed to be delivered but were not would arrive Saturday, Alt said.

USPS spokesman Paul Smith told The Inquirer that there were no mail delays in Montgomery County, which appears to be a matter of semantics. That’s because what happened Friday was technically more of an error than a delay in service. A person familiar with the matter told The Inquirer that the Postal Service lost the ballots and then found them.

The county is discouraging voters from mailing their ballots so close to Election Day, instead urging them to visit a Voter Services office or use one of the county’s 12 drop boxes, most of which open 24 hours Tuesday are open until 8 p.m.

The USPS generally recommends that voters mail their ballots at least a week in advance, and Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt had urged voters to immediately return their ballots in person to a county election office or an official mailbox, already last Tuesday. .

But Montgomery County voters, who were originally told on April 5 that their ballot was on its way, were then told by the county to expect it on April 15 or 16, just a week before Election Day. Other voters who were told on April 12 that their ballot was on its way were told they should receive it Friday.

Montgomery County officials will meet with the county’s vendors before the November general election “to assess their capabilities” and will advocate for the state to improve its election timeline, which does not certify the vote until March 22, Alt said. Those who requested a mail-in ballot for the primary also have the option to turn it in and vote in person or cast a provisional ballot on Tuesday.

A limited period to vote, or possibly none at all

Not being able to actually send a ballot through the mail can be a problem for people who don’t live near a mailbox or election office and aren’t mobile or don’t have an easy way to get there. below Pennsylvania law, Voters cannot have their ballot returned by anyone else, except voters with disabilities who have designated a proxy in writing.

The delays also created a limited window for observant Jews who did not want to vote on Saturday because of Shabbat — the Jewish Sabbath — or on Tuesday because of Passover. Even the ability to vote between the end of Shabbat on Saturday evening and the start of Passover on Monday evening is not an option for everyone. Aside from holiday preparations, many observers travel to be with family for the holidays and may already be out of town.

Ari Alderstein came home Friday evening to find his ballot still hadn’t arrived, despite requesting it weeks ago.

Merion Station’s Alderstein said the elections taking place during Passover disenfranchise Jewish voters like himself, which wouldn’t be the “end of the world” if there were a seamless mail-in process.

“But you know, after all that, it’s very upsetting to even get your ballot in the mail,” he said. “It’s one of the fundamental rights we have: to vote and have our voices heard.”

His family decided to stay local during Passover this year, but most of his friends left town on Friday, or planned to do so on Sunday morning, in preparation for the Jewish holiday.

Dan Mitzner, government affairs director for Teach Coalition – the Jewish education advocacy group of the Orthodox Union – said the community relied on the postal option this year. Teach Coalition opened a voting education center in Lower Merion earlier this month as part of a six-figure effort to mobilize Jewish voters called Pennsylvania Unites.

” READ MORE: Jewish communities in the Philly area are preparing for primaries that conflict with Passover

There are Orthodox Jewish communities in several parts of Montgomery County, including Bala Cynwyd, Merion Station, Wynnewood, Elkins Park and Fort Washington.

“The whole idea of ​​having multiple voting options is to empower more voters and encourage voting,” Mitzner said. “And what you do is take away the ability to vote on Election Day, and now a mail-in ballot is essentially not a mail-in ballot anymore. You can’t send it.”

Montco stays behind

Mitzner saw the delays as incompetence on the part of the county, and Alderstein also noted that it is a Montgomery-specific issue. But Alt, the county spokesman, argued there were delays could have happened anywhere.

“Unfortunately, we think this problem could happen in other counties as well – this time it was Montgomery County, next time it could be a neighboring county,” she said.

” READ MORE: Montgomery County Commissioner Neil Makhija wants the county to set a national example in how to make voting more accessible.

As of Wednesday, only 1.2% of mail-in and absentee ballots had been returned in Montgomery County, which rose to 5.8% on Thursday. That share rose to 26% Friday morning, still lagging surrounding areas as Bucks, Chester and Philadelphia counties had all received more than 50% and Delaware County had received 45%.

USPS received some Montgomery County ballots for processing and delivery from April 9 to 11, and more on Monday and Tuesday, said Smith, the spokesman.

Meanwhile, ballots had already begun in Chester and Philadelphia counties on March 28 and March 29, respectively, according to Rebecca Brain, Philadelphia City Commissioner Seth Bluestein and spokesperson for Chester County Commissioners.

“The U.S. Postal Service is committed to the safe, timely delivery of the nation’s election mail,” Smith said. “In 2024, as in previous elections, the Postal Service will fulfill our role in the election process when public policy makers choose to use the Postal Service as part of their election system or when voters choose to use our services to participate in elections . an election.”

Staff writer Katie Bernard contributed to this article.