WELLSBORO — Tioga County is preparing for the presidential election with an additional employee and growing frustration with delays at the state level.
Voter Registration Director Penny Whipple reported that new voters are signing up daily. She has received 300 new registrations in the past few weeks. The last day to register or change registration is Oct. 19.
In addition, the mail-in and absentee ballots are higher than ever. In a normal year, she would receive about 1,000 absentee ballot requests. This year with the addition of mail-in ballots, that number already totals 3,831 requests.
While commissioners approved a request to hire a full-time temporary clerk to help with the additional work, the real issue is that ballots have not been certified by the Department of State, said Whipple.
Before she can have the ballots printed, the state must certify which candidates will be on the ballot. No county in the state has been certified, which means no county has had ballots printed.
Once the ballot is certified, Whipple — and every other county — will send it to be printed, a process that usually takes two weeks.
“My goal was to put the (absentee and mail-in) ballots in the mail Oct. 5,” she said, noting that the printer may not be able to handle all the requests in the usual amount of time.
Commissioner Erick Coolidge said these circumstances are causing unrest among county officials.
“Right now we are at the precipice of not being able to have accuracy,” he said.
While voters have until Oct. 27 to request an absentee or mail-in ballot, making a request at that time may not leave the county and voters enough time to send and return the ballot by Nov. 3, said Coolidge.
Whipple encourages mail-in and absentee ballots to respond as soon as possible.
“Vote them and return them; that would be the best practice,” Whipple said.
Every day without a certified ballot puts more stress on county offices to provide the service in a shortened time frame, he said.
“There has to be a saturation point,” Coolidge said. “At some date and time, no matter how efficient you are, it’s too much to ask.”
Despite the challenges, Coolidge and Whipple both said their offices will do whatever it takes to make the process work, to get ballots to voters and to ensure an accurate accounting of the votes cast.
“Everything hinges on the availability of the product,” Coolidge said.