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Commonwealth secretary stops in region

Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt speaks at the Lackawanna County Government Center in Scranton on Thursday, March 28.
Kat Bolus
Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt speaks at the Lackawanna County Government Center in Scranton on Thursday, March 28.

Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt toured two election bureaus in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Schmidt was impressed by the Lackawanna County Office of Election's operation.

“Not just how it’s set up but the transparency that the county provides to observers and the dedication that the county has to making sure that every vote cast by a registered voter on or before election day would be counted," he said.

Schmidt became secretary on June 29. He’s visiting every election director in every county to learn how the state can support the offices. He was also in Luzerne County on Thursday.

Different counties face different challenges, he said. 

"It's important, I think, to hear those challenges and find out what the Department of State can do better to be of assistance or get out of the way," he said. "Hearing from people directly has been an incredible experience.”

Beth Hopkins is Lackawanna County’s director of elections. Her office gave the secretary a behind the scenes look at their operation.

"Everybody on the staff in the elections bureau in the county is committed to fair, safe and efficient elections," she said.

Before Schmidt's visit to Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, a federal appeals court ruled that a state law stands — mail-in ballots that arrive on time but lack dates handwritten by the voter or with incorrect dates should not be counted. The ACLU and other advocacy groups sued in federal court to remove the requirement.

Schmidt is disappointed. He served for 10 years as a Philadelphia City Commissioner and was one of three members on the bipartisan Board of Elections.

"It’s heartbreaking to be an election administrator, and be there with a tray or trays of ballots that can't be counted because of a defect in, in completing the outer envelope," he said.

This year the state released a new envelope template for counties, he noted. It’s clearer where the date should be written on the return envelope.

"Voting by mail is not complicated. The instructions are very clear," he said. "If you sign and date the ... outer declaration envelope, your vote's going to count.”

Schmidt also reinforced that voting by mail in Pennsylvania is safe.

The advocacy organizations have until April 10 to appeal the third circuit court's ruling.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.

You can email Kat at katbolus@wvia.org