It's not just the COVID-19 pandemic that is changing the way Delaware County will vote Nov. 3.
Some things, such as the paper ballot voting machines, have been in the works for years while the expansion of mail-in ballots has been a relatively more recent development.
Last week, state Rep. Leanne Krueger, D-161 of Nether Providence, held a webinar to address the process for voting in this election. Moderated by her staff member, Florence Moyer, Delaware County Councilwoman Christine Reuther answered many questions about how to prepare and what to expect.
"The process has changed dramatically this year," Krueger noted. "Act 77, which passed back in December and was signed into law, is the biggest changing to voting in Pennsylvania that we’ve seen in decades."
The first step would be registering to vote.
In order to do so, a person must be a citizen of the United States and a resident of Pennsylvania for at least 30 days before Nov. 3. They also must be 18 years old or older. The deadline to register to vote for the General Election is Oct. 19.
"The easiest way to register if you have a driver's license or an official state photo ID is to go online to votespa.com," Reuther said. "That is an official Pennsylvania website.”
However, she explained that a driver's license is not necessary to become a voter.
“You do not need to have an official state ID to register to vote," Reuther said, although she explained that one would need a lease or a utility bill to demonstrate the residency requirement.
She added that the public and call 1-877-VOTESPA (868-3772) and ask for a voters' registration application to be sent to them or they can visit the Voter Registration Office in the Government Center at 201 W. Front St. in Media.
"It’s going to be easier to get to a county voter services office starting in early October," Reuther said, adding that the county is adding an office at 20 S. 69th St. on the fourth floor in Upper Darby and one in the main lobby of Chester City Hall at 1 E. Fourth St. in Chester. There will also be mobile voting centers traveling throughout the county, including the western part of the county and Darby Borough, and she recommended checking the county website at delcopa.gov to watch for the locations and times of those.
In addition, Reuther said the county is launching a voter hotline at 610-891-VOTE (8683) to answer voters' questions.
"That’s in the process of getting set up and staffed,” she explained. "I think it’s going to go live this week."
Because of the expansion provided in Act 77, an option voters have this election is to mail their ballot - however, they must first apply to receive it, have that application approved and then have a ballot sent to them.
To apply, they can visit votespa.com or delcopa.gov to fill out an application or download one. Voters have until Oct. 27 to apply for a mail-in ballot, although officials are asking the public to do it as soon as they can to avoid a backlog. Reuther said the mail-in ballot applications go through a lengthy checking process prior to approval.
Delaware County, like all of Pennsylvania's counties, was delayed in printing the official ballot because of a state Supreme Court challenge that was recently resolved and county officials anticipate the ballots will begin to be mailed out the beginning of October.
When it arrives, Reuther said, "It’s going to be a big envelope.”
Inside will be the ballot, instructions and two envelopes.
"When you vote … the recommendation is use a black or a blue ball point pen," Reuther said. "It's like the SATs, you want to color in the bubble."
She said felt tip markers can bleed.
And, she stressed, there is no mechanism for a straight-party ballot.
You’re going to have to vote individually for every candidate you want to vote for," she said, adding that voters should be very mindful of their selections as it's challenging if a mistake is made. If they start to mark a circle for a candidate, then realized they wanted another, they'll have to put arrows and clear wording like, "This is the candidate I wanted" for the person they wanted to pick.
Inside their voter package will be two envelopes. When the voter is finished filling out their ballot, they will put it inside the "Official Election Ballot" envelope and seal it. Then, they will put that sealed envelope inside the other addressed to the Delaware County Election Bureau, which will be postage prepaid for this election. Then, the voter will seal that envelope and sign it and date it.
It is imperative that the ballot be placed in the secrecy envelope, then the outer postage prepaid envelope and signed, otherwise, Reuther added, "Your vote will not be counted. So follow the rules, follow the instructions."
After that, the ballot can be returned to any election office, via the U.S. mail or to a Delaware County election drop box. As of last week, more than 20 drop boxes had been approved for installation, Reuther said. The county had initially bought 50 so that each municipality could place one in their governmental building. Some locations like Concord and Trainer have declined to have the boxes installed.
Reuther said drop boxes will begin to be installed this week, and will be emptied every day.
In-person voting is also an option. It will be the second election Delaware County is using the Hart Verity 2.3.4 Voting System.
Polling locations - as well as drop box spots - will be featured on an interactive map on the county website (delcopa.gov) soon, Reuther said.
At their respective precincts, voters will be given a ballot, which they can take to a privacy table to fill in the circles for their intended candidates.
“All of the pens will be wiped down with wipes between uses," Reuther said.
Then, unlike the primary where the ballots were placed into a box, in-person voters will take their ballots to a scanner, where they will insert it, completing their vote.
“The machine is just like feeding something into a copier or a printer or a fax machine," Reuther explained.
It will only spit the ballot back out in two cases: one there are too many marks on the paper, such as too many bubbles filled in for a position and not all the positions up for election were filled.
If there's too many marks on the ballot, Reuther recommended seeking the assistance of election personnel on site. If a voter intentionally left spaces blank, they simply have to reinsert it into the machine. If not, they can fill it out and insert it again.
With the changes in a high-volume year, the voter resources available from the county website at delcopa.gov to the various hotlines will be available to assist.
"It sounds like the running themes are going to be votespa.com, 1-877-VOTESPA and 610-891-VOTE seem to be the places to get the best answers for things," Moyer said.