Allegheny County advocates and elected officials call for ballot drop-off boxes and other election fixes | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Allegheny County advocates and elected officials call for ballot drop-off boxes and other election fixes

click to enlarge Allegheny County advocates and elected officials call for ballot drop-off boxes and other election fixes
A ballot drop-off box in Colorado
This year’s general election is expected to be a barn buster, in terms of turnout. Turnout in Allegheny County was extremely high in this year’s primary, and it’s expected that turnout will increase in the general election. And with the coronavirus pandemic still in full force, a group of advocates and elected officials are calling on Allegheny County to install ballot drop-off boxes, create new satellite election offices, and increase pay for poll workers.

On a video-conference call yesterday, a group of eight regional leaders discussed the need for these election fixes in order to ensure a smooth and equitable general election. Currently, Allegheny County residents can vote by mail and in-person, but mail-in ballots must be returned to the county election office Downtown by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

The group’s hope is that Allegheny County starts to move forward with plans to install ballot drop-off boxes and satellite election offices, where voters can securely drop off their mail-in ballots without being forced to use the postal service, which is facing cuts and possible mail delays, or travel to the main election office in Downtown Pittsburgh.

State Sen. Jay Costa (D-Forest Hills) said during the call that he’s spoken to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald (D-Squirrel Hill) and said the county does have a plan for drop-boxes and satellite offices. But he and the other speakers urged the plan be put into place sooner rather than later.

“We need to ensure safe access for voters,” said Aerion Abney of advocacy group All Voting is Local. “Voters should not have to choose between their health and commonsense democracy.”

Brandi Fisher of the Alliance for Police Accountability said her group has canvassed, phone banked, and text banked to inform voters that they can vote by mail. But notes the current inequities in the Black and low-income communities mean that many voters rely on public transit, and might not be able to drop off their ballot Downtown easily if they are worried about the mail arriving in time. She said drop-off boxes and satellite elections officers are critical.

State Rep. Ed Gainey (D-East Liberty) agreed. He supports mail-in voting, but wants more opportunities for people to turn in their ballots.

“Mail-in ballots are critical, especially for vulnerable communities, especially my seniors,” said Gainey, whose district stretches from Garfield through Homewood to Wilkinsburg. “Some of them have been voting for 50-60 years, but they are scared to go out to vote. No question that Allegheny County needs to have drop-off boxes."

Allegheny County Councilor Bethany Hallam (D-Ross) said that Allegheny County received praise for its ability to quickly count its ballots in the primary election compared to other Pennsylvania counties, but said there were still voting issues that needed to be addressed, like voters not receiving their ballots in time to return (or not receiving ballots at all) and long lines for in-person voting caused by consolidating polling places.

For the general, Allegheny County has expanded back to the typical amount of polling places. Hallam notes that turnout will likely be higher on Nov. 3 and so satellite election offices and drop boxes could help avoid some of the issues faced in the primary.

“Allegheny County should move forward,” said Hallam. “We know we are allowed to have satellite voting locations. These aren’t radical ideas, these are solutions that are used across the country.”