Union County residents intent on voting by mail can expect to receive ballots late this week or early next week, according to Greg Katherman, director of elections and voter registration.

More than 5,000 registered voters in the county requested mail-in ballots, an expanded method of voting open to all Pennsylvanians resulting from the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

A third-party vendor is actively processing the ballot mailings for Union County — return envelope, secrecy envelope, ballot and instructions. The mailings are then bound for home delivery by the U.S. Postal Service.

The day after President Donald Trump attacked the integrity of the mail-in voting system during his debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Katherman and county election staffers Glenda Radel and Kim Zerbe spoke to important dates and processes mail-in voters must keep in mind.

Registered voters have until Oct. 27 to request a ballot from the elections office in Union County or any other county in Pennsylvania. Ballots must be mailed by 8 p.m. Nov. 3, Election Day. All ballots must be secured in the secrecy envelope before being sealed into the post-marked return envelope. While so-called “naked ballots” were counted in the spring primary, the state high court ruled this fall that they must be secured in secrecy envelopes for the general election.

“If you don’t put it in the secrecy envelope, it will be voided,” Katherman said, citing a Sept. 17 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling.

“I think they have forgotten the human aspect of this,” Zerbe said of disallowing naked ballots to be counted.

Keep that secrecy envelope clean. The Supreme Court found that any markings identifying the voter, their party or their votes will also cause ballots to be voided.

Voters wary of the mail service for whatever reason can hand-deliver ballots in person at the Union County Government Center, 155 N. 15th St., Lewisburg. They’re accepted in-person up until polls close. The Government Center is the only place to return ballots in-person. There are no drop-off boxes in Union County.

There is a three-day grace period, however, for completed ballots to be returned to county elections offices through the mail. As the law stands now, one that Republican leaders and the Trump campaign are seeking to contest in the U.S. Supreme Court, mail-in ballots can be received by Nov. 6 — three days after polls close.

Why? According to a state Supreme Court ruling, the three-day grace period is authorized because of the tight window between the ballot request deadline and the mail service’s current delivery standards — two to five days for domestic first-class mail and three to 10 days for marketing mail.

The best way to avoid a mail mishap, Katherman said, is to request a ballot before the deadline date and when received, return it the same day.

“When you get the ballot, vote it and return it right away,” Katherman said.

Voters can track the status of their mail-in ballot to see that it’s been received by visiting www.pavoterservices.pa.gov. Select the link “Election Ballot Status” under the Voter Services column and fill out the resulting information. Alternatively, check with the county elections office.

“Be proactive. Check. If it’s my vote, I’m calling to check on it,” Zerbe said.

For those voting in-person, Zerbe said Union County precincts will be stocked with personal protective equipment like masks and hand sanitizer. Still, voters are asked to wear their own masks so as not to deplete the supply. Also, the county elections officials asked that voters be respectful of poll workers and fellow electors.

Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 3.

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