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I cast my vote for mail-in balloting, but …

I completed the application for mail-in balloting last week, and I was surprised at how easy the process was.

It took me about five minutes. I didn’t do it prior to the primary elections, because as a registered nonpartisan I can’t vote in primaries unless there is a ballot question.

Of course, I am very much aware of the mixed messages we’re getting from our elected leaders about the advisability and security of mail-in voting.

On the one hand, Gov. Tom Wolf has made it a priority to persuade Pennsylvanians to consider mail-in balloting a priority, especially in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.

Then, we have President Donald Trump, who strongly opposes massive efforts to get more people on board with the concept, even though he voted this way in the Republican primary in Florida since he is now a legal resident of that state.

“There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mailboxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed,” a recent Trump tweet on the social platform Twitter read.

Those who have studied the growing trend in mail-in voting insist that they are “very rarely” linked to voter fraud because of the security measures initiated by state and county election officials.

My “but” has nothing to do with safety or security concerns; rather my worry is overwhelming the systems that our local counties have in place to handle the receipt and tally of these ballots.

We saw this variation play out in the June 2 primaries. The process seemed to run really smoothly in Carbon and Northampton counties, whereas in Lehigh and Monroe counties, there were far more problems. It took nearly two weeks to sort out the winner of a state representative race in Allentown.

In Schuylkill County, election officials had to deal not only with the impact of the pandemic which led to fewer polling places and the training of many new poll workers shortly before the primaries, but officials and workers had to navigate the primaries with new, more secure voting machines for the first time. Coincidental or not, election bureau director Frannie Brennan retired after 40 years in the department, effective about a month ago.

With less than four months to go until the Nov. 3 general election, state and county officials are scrambling to make major adjustments to handle the onslaught of mail-in ballots anticipated for this presidential election.

The state says turnout in the primaries was roughly 2.8 million voters, or 35%, with slightly more than half of all votes coming by mail The primaries had been postponed from April 28 to June 2 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2016, 70% of Pennsylvania registered voters cast ballots in the Trump-Hillary Clinton presidential race, much better than the 58% national average. The 2016 state turnout was the greatest since the 77% who showed up in the 1988 contest between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. The all-time modern history high in the state was the titanic 1960 race between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon when 88% of registered voters showed up.

We can extrapolate from these statistics why election officials are concerned about being overwhelmed. Counties need to consider getting more office and poll workers, and there is a need for additional machines that count ballots.

In addition, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, whose department oversees elections, has asked state lawmakers for changes to speed the counting of mail ballots, perhaps by permitting officials to open envelopes up to three weeks before Election Day. Current state law won’t allow this until polls open at 7 a.m.

They also pointed to the much larger number of provisional ballots created by the flood of mail-in ballots. Voters who applied for mail-in ballots and did not receive theirs or wanted to vote in person were directed to fill out a provisional ballot, which has to be checked for eligibility and duplication, a laborious process.

There were some real horror stories in the primaries, including one notable one in our area. It took more than a month for Dr. Gary Wegman to be certified as the winner of the Democratic primary for Congress in the 9th District (which includes Carbon and Schuylkill counties). He now faces incumbent Dan Meuser in the general election.

One of my sons, knowing that I have voted in person in 61 consecutive general elections since I turned 21 in June 1960, the legal voting age in the day, asked whether there is anything I will miss by converting to mail-in balloting.

Yes, I replied, the shoofly pies sold by the church auxiliary at the polling place where I voted.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com