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Yesterday I received in the mail a vote I’d already cast for the next president of the United States.
I had requested to vote by mail before the June primary in Pennsylvania, because coronavirus. It’s the first year anyone can make that request in Pa., and signing up should have generated mail ballots for me in both the 2020 primary and the general elections.
I am hardly alone in making this request. More than 2.6 million of my state neighbors have taken the same step this year, per state data, a record number. In fact, the Associated Press reports, it’s 2.3 million *more* mail-in requests than in the 2016 election, when only 300,000 residents voted that way. As a frame of reference, 6.1 million total votes were counted that year in Pennsylvania, which went red and helped put Trump in the White House.
Anyway, my spring ballot never arrived, apparently because the pandemic closed Delaware County’s Bureau of Elections.
I didn’t mind, as the presidential primary in Pa. was basically uncontested; by that time Joe Biden had run the tables after the South Carolina primary, and Donald Trump had a lock on the GOP nomination. I was more concerned about the fall.
My one-in-2.6-million ballot came last Thursday — huzzah! — to my home in Havertown, one of the ring suburbs of Philadelphia that are so hotly contested this year. My county had promised ballot drop boxes, but at the time I received it none had yet been set up. So I’d be utilizing the services of normally reliable but reportedly mismanaged U.S. Postal Service.
I followed the directions carefully: I filled it out in blue ink, placed it in the security envelope, sealed that, and then double-bagged it in the mailing envelope. Completed and signed the voter declaration on the back, including writing out my address. Drove it to the post office Saturday — where a handmade sign proclaimed “We ❤️ Our Postal Service!” — and handed it to a mailman emptying out a drop box.
I’d voted! Where’s my sticker?
The ballot returned to my home on Tuesday, unopened and postmarked as having been processed through Philadelphia.
Wait. What? I had questions.
I drove back to that local post office a few hours later for answers. The postman at the desk deduced that my envelope had gone through a sorting machine backward and it pulled my home address — which, let’s remember, is on the opposite side of the ballot from the “No Postage Required” mark and Delco Board of Elections mailing address.
It’s a little hard to tell under a surgical mask, but the postal worker seemed perplexed. “This was delivered…to your home?” he asked, as he used a grease crayon to smudge the tracking bar codes on both sides of his ballot, with a shake of his head. “That’s a little ridiculous.”
With the bar codes from its first circular journey blacked out, my ballot is — let’s hope! — now actually on its way.
Mercifully, the U.S.P.S. employee had not heard of any similar other cases. But mine was among the first ballots mailed in my county. What are the odds it will be the only one of those 2.6 million requested that boomerangs back, because a stressed-out, overworked, understaffed government employee drops it in a machine the wrong way?
I’m no expert, but I’m guessing it won’t be alone. In the meantime, I’ll keep refreshing this page on the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website, hoping the status changes.