Luzerne County pumping out absentee ballots

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - [email protected] | October 25th, 2016 6:14 pm

Luzerne County’s election office mailed more than 6,000 absentee ballots by Tuesday afternoon, leaving only absentee voting requests that have arrived since last weekend to process, officials said.

The office continues to receive batches of new requests daily and expects more because the state allows voters to apply for absentee ballots through Nov. 1, said county Election Director Marisa Crispell.

Completed absentee ballots must be returned to the election office by 5 p.m. on Nov. 4.

County officials expect to meet or exceed the 7,430 absentee votes in the last presidential general election in 2012.

In comparison, the county had 1,847 absentee ballots in the 2015 municipal general election and 2,428 in the 2014 general, when the governor’s race was on the ballot, said Mary Beth Steininger, county deputy election director.

The county was permitted to start processing absentee requests on Sept. 19. The office did not start mailing absentee ballots until Oct. 17, in part to ensure there were no last-minute changes to the ballot stemming from court challenges, Crispell said. Nearly 5,000 absentee ballots were mailed in the first week, or by Oct. 22, she said.

Voters can request absentee ballots if they are unable to appear at the polls on election day Nov. 8 due to an illness or other obligation.

If the reason is medical, the absentee application requires voters to specify their illness or physical disability and their physician’s name, address and phone number. Voters expecting to be absent from their municipality while the polls are open must state the duty, occupation or business reason.

The absentee application contains a warning stating those who are able to vote in person on election day must appear at their polling places to vote, where their previously submitted, bar-coded absentee ballots will be voided.

Voters who apply for absentee ballots close to the Nov. 1 deadline will be cutting it close, Crispell said.

Absentee voters who are concerned their completed ballots won’t be mailed to the county by Nov. 4 can take the ballots to the Hazleton or Wilkes-Barre post offices between Nov. 2 and Nov. 4.

Voters using this option must pay the postage, hand the envelope to a postal worker and inform the postal worker they are delivering a voted absentee ballot.

The Wilkes-Barre Post Office at 300 S. Main St. will accept these special deliveries until 5 p.m. Nov. 4, while the cutoff will be noon on Nov. 4 at the Hazleton Post Office, located at 231 N. Wyoming St.

Absentee voters also can take their completed ballots to the county election office inside the Penn Place Building at 20 N. Pennsylvania Ave. in Wilkes-Barre, but the state election code doesn’t allow someone else to drop off a ballot on behalf of an absentee voter.

Crispell said she believes election reform is warranted to move back both the deadline to apply for absentee ballots and the date changes can be made to the ballot due to court challenges. For example, U.S. Senate contender Joe Vodvarka was placed back on the ballot shortly before the April primary election due to a state Supreme Court ruling, she said.

The absentee voting requests require detailed review, Crispell said, noting she found four applicants who were not registered to vote in a batch of 100 requests she processed Monday night.

Voters encountering sudden emergencies, such as the last-minute scheduling of major surgery or an out-of-town work assignment, can complete emergency absentee ballot requests Nov. 2 to Nov. 4. These applications must be notarized and specify the reason, Crispell said. These completed ballots also are due 5 p.m. Nov. 4.

The law also provides an option for voters who become physically disabled or ill or learn they will be absent after 5 p.m. Nov. 4. These voters can seek an emergency absentee ballot through the county Court of Common Pleas before the polls close at 8 p.m. on election day.


By Jennifer Learn-Andes

[email protected]

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.