In the News

Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan holds town hall series about voting safely in 2020

Washington, September 14, 2020

Originally published in the Reading Eagle.

Written by Karen Shuey.


It appears that social media platforms are rife with misinformation with the 2020 election on the horizon.

Like many other Pennsylvanians, Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan said she has had to wade through the flood of information that has come her way to figure out what is fact and what is fiction. And on Monday she launched a weekly virtual series hoping to help her constituents do the same.

"I felt as though I was hearing a lot of different information and if I'm hearing a lot of different information I really worry about what other people are able to collect because they have very busy lives too," she said. "So I thought it was important to have a discussion as frequently as possible up until the election to make sure that everyone is operating with the most accurate information out there."

Houlahan, a Chester County Democrat who represents Reading and many southern communities in Berks County, said the purpose of the series is to provide people with an opportunity to hear from local elections officials and community leaders about how to navigate this election season during an unprecedented global health crisis with the most accurate and timely information about Election Day.

The goal, she said, is for the series will be a one-stop shop for everything her constituents need to know about voting procedures.

"Voting is not a partisan issue," Houlahan said. "Everyone has the right and the privilege to have their voices heard. One of the responsibilities of my office is to connect people from all political backgrounds together with local officials to have a real and truthful conversation about the voting process."

The series began on Monday with a focus on the view from the state level featuring Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar.

"There's so much misinformation out there in the world right now, and so I'm happy to talk about this issue," she said. "The reality is that Pennsylvania has seen more changes to how people vote and how we run elections in the last year than we saw in the prior decade. And that can lead to some confusion."

Boockvar said the most important thing she wants to stress is that Pennsylvanians have several options when it comes to voting: they can cast their ballot by mail, they can vote early by filling out a ballot at their county election office and they can go to the polls on Election Day.

A Franklin & Marshall College poll released last month found most voters will be heading to the polls to cast their ballots in November rather than choosing to vote by mail.

Nearly two-thirds said they intend to cast their ballot in person, compared with just one-third who planned to vote by mail. Democrats are more likely to vote by mail than vote in person, 55% to 42%. Among Republicans, 84% expect to vote in person and 14% will vote by mail. Independents also favor voting at the polls, 58% to 29%.

Those numbers could reflect several factors.

There have been concerns among voters about changes made by the postmaster general that have triggered mail delivery delays and claims by President Trump that the 2020 election will be the most corrupt election of all time thanks to voting-by-mail options.

How to cast your ballot by mail

Allowing Pennsylvania voters to submit their ballots by mail is new this year. It was one of several changes included in a historic election reform bill signed into law last fall designed by state lawmakers to increase access to the ballot box.

The introduction of widespread voting by mail in the Keystone State proved to be popular among voters in the June primary due to safety concerns amid the pandemic.

In Berks County and Pennsylvania, the election marked the first time in modern history that more ballots were cast by mail than at polling locations.

The county received 50% of ballots by mail and recorded 48% of ballots that were cast on voting machines. Those figures were in line with what was seen at the state level with 51% of votes coming by mail and 47% votes cast in person.

How to request a mailed ballot

Voters can apply online by visiting VotesPA.com, apply in person at the county elections office or contact the county elections office directly to request a paper application.

You will need to apply with a valid Pennsylvania identification card or supply the last four digits of your Social Security number.

How to vote with a mailed ballot

  1. Mark your ballot following the instructions.
  2. Place your ballot in the secrecy envelope, then put the secrecy envelope into the official envelope. Be sure to sign the declaration or your ballot may not count.
  3. Return your ballot so it arrives at the county elections office by Election Day.

When will the ballots be ready

Boockvar said voters who have applied to cast their vote by mail should get the ballot by early next month.

A legal dispute between the Democratic Party and Green Party has led to a delay in certification of the November ballot, and as a result, all Pennsylvania county election officials are being forced to wait to send out ballots through the Postal Service. 

Boockvar said she expects there will be a ruling on the case sometime this week. That means the ballots should be certified and ready to print by early next week.

"They will probably go out to voters by the end of this month," she said. "Every county will be on a slightly different schedule because some may print the ballots internally while those with millions of voters may send them to outside printing firms."

How to become a poll worker

As the general election approaches, Boockvar stressed that counties throughout the commonwealth are facing a serious shortage of people willing to spend the day signing in voters and making sure the voting system runs smoothly. While this is not a new problem for election officials, she said the public health emergency has made the recruiting process more difficult.

"My first job in elections was as a poll worker, and I can tell you that you never feel more like you are part of democracy than when you are there helping people cast their vote," she said. "It is so rewarding and so inspiring to help ensure that democracy is working."

She added that election officials are doing their part to make sure that voting at the polls is safe.

Local election officials have mandated that all workers wear masks and face shields, and gloves will be provided for workers and voters. Hand sanitizer will be available at all polling locations. And voters are also encouraged to bring their own pen to sign in, providing a further level of security.

Qualifications: Poll workers must be registered voters in Berks and at least 18 years old. There are different requirements for students participating through their schools.

Hours: 6 a.m. to at least 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.

Positions available: Elections judge, majority and minority inspectors, election interpreters, machine inspector and clerk.

Pay: $180 for all positions. All workers are paid $10 for attending a training session. Judges also are paid for travel and some other items.

Training: New workers, judges and machine inspectors must attend one of the training sessions. Contact election services for dates and times.

More information: Berks County Election Services at 610-478-6490 or visit co.berks.pa.us/elections.