Union County voting

Robert Inglis/The Daily Item

Kathleen Smith casts her vote on Tuesday at the Lewisburg 3 polling station at Bucknell University.

The Daily Item

The 2021 general election is less than a month away and local election officials say they are as prepared as they can be following the tumultuous year since the 2020 presidential election.

While the Nov. 2 election won’t have nearly the same flash or volume of voters as last year, the microscope election officials across the nation have been under — boosted by the continued flawed push of election fraud and misinformation — has added to the stress of the job.

A survey of election officials commissioned by the Brennan Center for Justice completed earlier this year summarized 78 percent of election officials said social media, where “mis- and disinformation about elections both took root and spread, has made their job more difficult.”

Local election officials said the false narrative pushed over the past 11 months, nationally and statewide, echoed those sentiments.

“Nothing could be more difficult than administering a presidential election with new equipment and new laws and protocols coming at you right and left while in the throes of a pandemic,” said Montour County Chief Clerk Holly Brandon, who oversees elections in that county. “And then there’s the added insult of people in high places yelling fraud before the election was even held.”

“Frankly, election administration has not been getting any simpler,” said Caleb Shaffer, Snyder County director of Elections. “We will always utilize our resources to the fullest extent to ensure Snyder County voters are guaranteed a free, fair, and accurate election.”

Transparency, Northumberland County Election Director Nathan Savidge said, is the key. In Northumberland County, there is a viewing booth where people can watch the ballot processing and counting on Election Day.

“We get hammered,” Savidge said. “But the staff here, we want to make voting as transparent as possible with the viewing room, so we are lucky. But we keep adding information to our website (norrycopa.net/index.php/board-of-elections/) to get all the information out there.”

Staffing for November

In the Valley, election officials say they have adequate staffing to tackle what will be smaller turnouts than last November.

On Friday, the official Twitter feed of the Pennsylvania State government sent out a link asking people to sign up to be a poll worker on Nov. 2, touting $200 a day in pay, even during training and no experience necessary.

Greg Katherman, Union County’s director of elections and voter registration, said Union County has a full complement of election day staffers: Approximately 135 poll workers, six roving workers and another six county staffers will assist himself and his office’s two employees.

In Montour County, Brandon said there are enough election officials — judge of elections, inspectors of elections, constables and appointed (clerks) — while acknowledging there “are always holes to fill but nothing out of the usual.”

Shaffer’s election office has two full-time staffers, but he said they “bring in additional courthouse staffing on Election Day. We are confident in our staffing.”

Savidge and his staff finishing resetting Northumberland County’s machines on Friday, capping a week-long process. His office is fully staffed and part-time employees’ hours are starting to ramp up as they always do around the election, Savidge said.

Heading into the 2020 election, he said the county was “hemorrhaging” poll workers, but the number has stabilized.

“It’s not as bad as it was before,” he said. “We are a little bit better off than we were last year, but we are always looking for people to work at the polls.”

Getting ready

Election officials know the turnout will be down from November — when turnout was at least 70 percent in three Valley counties and 69.7 percent in Montour — but the increasing number of people using mail-in ballots could push the numbers up higher than normal for an off-year municipal election.

Among the higher-profile races on the ballot this year are mayoral races in Sunbury and Milton, a few row officer races in Northumberland County, school boards across the region and a judicial race in Snyder and Union counties.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for in-person voting on Nov. 2. The last day to register to vote before the election is Oct. 18 and mail-in or absentee ballots applications are Oct. 26. All civilian mail-in and absentee ballots must be received in the county election offices by 8 p.m. on election day, while overseas absentee ballots and military ballots can be received until Nov. 9.

Training is underway for poll workers in all four counties.

“We hold two poll worker trainings that go in-depth on Election Day procedures and best practices,” Shaffer said.

“There are three nights of training approaching later this month,” Katherman said of Union County workers. “Poll workers will review equipment and processes, voter eligibility, rules for first-time voters and how to assist people cast their votes. They’ll also be updated on casting mail-in ballots and provisional ballots.

Turnout, changes

Masks aren’t mandatory at polling locations, Katherman reiterated. He added that people voting by mail who may be tardy to get it to the postal service can drop the ballots off at the county election office — there are no dedicated drop boxes — or bring the ballots to their polling station to have them canceled and vote in person.

In Northumberland County, Savidge said masks will be required at the eight or nine polling locations housed in schools.

There were 8,165 votes cast in the spring primary, about 31% of Union County’s 26,206 registered voters. Katherman didn’t expect that strong of a turnout.

“I’m guessing it will be at least as strong as that one,” Katherman said of the general election on Nov. 2.

“Your guess on turnout is as good as mine. Nowhere near what we saw in the presidential (election),” Brandon said. “Everyone wants to vote for president. It’s too bad there is not as robust a turnout for other races. They’re all important.”

In Snyder County, at the request of some voters, Shaffer said they have introduced “I Voted” stickers to all county polling places. He said they were “heavily requested by voters and poll workers, in place of the ballot stub.

Shaffer said the turnout for municipal elections is typically between 25 and 35 percent. “I expect this election to be on the higher end of that range due to the growth of mail-in ballots,” he said.

Savidge said his office has already received three boxes of completed mail-in ballots from various locations across the county. Like Shaffer, he’s confident the turnout will be higher than expected because of mail-ins.

“We always overshoot our projections regarding ballots, but we’ve still been running out,” Savidge said. “Using mail-in is becoming more and more common. It’s easy and people can send their ballots in early.”

Daily Item reporters Marcia Moore, Eric Scicchitano and Joe Sylvester and Managing Editor Bill Bowman contributed to this story.


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