Downstate voters express concerns about mail-in voting

As Election Day ticks closer and the number of mail-in ballots received steadily rises, Downstate residents are expressing various concerns about voting this year.

Kim Shireman of Felton plans to vote in person Tuesday. She considers it patriotic.

“I don’t want anything to happen to my vote,” she said. “There may be some that get lost, and I would worry about that, maybe in transit, I don’t know. I never considered mail-in voting.”

But Dover’s Bobby Brown said he trusts the U.S. Postal Service to deliver ballots, as long as carriers have enough time.

“If people do it early, they’ll be fine, but if they do it at the last minute, it would be a problem,” he said.

Given the number of ballots already received, he isn’t alone in trusting mail-in voting.

As of Friday morning, 149,145 of the 187,488 ballots the Department of Elections sent out had been returned, said Catherine Sheehan, an administrative assistant for the state election commissioner.

“Friday was the last day we could mail absentee or vote by mail ballots,” said Anthony Albence, Delaware’s state election commissioner.

He said that in-person absentee voting will continue to be offered between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday and until noon on Monday.

Mr. Albence also said that per Delaware law, completed ballots must be returned to the county election offices by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Ballot boxes at the county election offices will be open until 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

“Delaware does not use postmarks at all to determine if a ballot is received on time,” he said. “We must physically have the ballot returned to the county elections office that issued is by 8 p.m. on Election Day in order for the ballot to be considered received on time.”

Magnolia resident Don Painter hand delivered his ballot to the Department of Elections office in Dover.

“I wanted to hand it to somebody to lessen the chain,” he said.

Mr. Painter has voted absentee in the past when traveling during an election and said it could be a good alternative to in-person polling given COVID-19.

During a 22-year career in the U.S. Army, David Rowe said he regularly voted absentee when stationed overseas. The Dover resident still believes in the method and might have cast his ballot through the mail had he signed up to receive one in time.

“For our elderly or folks who might not be able to get to the polls, this is a great way of doing it. Mailing it in or dropping it off at the ballot box can be a great way to protect yourself,” he said. “Plus, you don’t always know what the weather is going to be like on Election Day.”

Ms. Sheehan said this flexibility is key to the Department of Election’s approach for 2020.

“We are happy to offer various options for voters, and we encourage voters to choose the option that best suits them,” she said.

But many locals in the Milford area were not enthused by the prospect of voting in absentia.

“I want to (vote) in person like I always have to ensure that there’s less of a chance for a mistake to be made,” said Milford resident Jessica Ellwanger. “I’m also responsible, as a voter, to be diligent over the accuracy of my vote.”

She said voting by mail “would be an act of laziness on my part, being someone who is capable of getting to the polls.”

“My experience is that when there’s more moving parts, there tends to be a higher frequency of mistakes, human error, for one reason or another,” Ms. Ellwanger said.

“There can certainly be malicious intent,” she said, “but it’s not really helpful to characterize people that way.”

She described herself as a born-again Christian who plans to vote for President Donald Trump because of his pro-life stance.

Retired Harrington resident Robert Kuligowski plans to cast an absentee ballot for President Trump, but he still hadn’t received his ballot in the mail by Thursday.

“I have to be in another state for medical reasons (Election Day),” he said. Still, he believed “everybody should make it to the polls to vote. There’s been a problem maybe with the (mail-in) ballots being counted or displaced or not filled out properly.”

Although Mr. Kuligowski is more worried about “a mistake happening,” he also believes there is a possibility mail-in ballots would be tampered with.

“I’m 83. My whole life, we’ve went into the machine and clicked,” he said. “That’s the way it was. That’s what I’m used to. I know there’s no problem with that.”

He believes “there should be more of an emphasis to go to the machine.”

COVID-19 is not a big concern for Mr. Kuligowski. He pointed out that the virus could be spread between people at the post office just as easily as between people going to the polls.

Dover’s Dorothy Adams also prioritizes voting in person. She said she isn’t going to miss the opportunity to visit the polls with her 18-year-old twins voting for the first time, but wouldn’t have cast her ballot by mail under any circumstances.

Ms. Adams is concerned about “Trump messing with things he shouldn’t be messing with, and that’s too much. I don’t have time for that, so I would rather go into a school, cast my vote and be done with it.”

Camden’s Justina Brewington-Comer was also skeptical.

“When it comes to mail-in voting, your vote may not make it in time,” she said. “The Department of Elections may not receive it so, no, I’m not comfortable with it.

Ms. Brewington-Comer said she “will be there personally to put in my vote because, right now, we’re living in a time where people are just wicked in spite of what (is) the right thing to do,” she said. “I do think fraud is possible, especially in the times we are living.”

But Ray Daiutolo, the U.S. Postal Service’s regional spokesperson for the district centered on Philadelphia, said his agency is doing everything it can to provide a safe, secure election in spite of COVID-19.

“With a record number of people across the country voting by mail, the U.S. Postal Service’s No. 1 priority between now and the November election is the secure, timely delivery of the nation’s election mail,” he said.

“We employ a robust and proven process to ensure proper handling of all election mail, including ballots,” Mr. Daiutolo said. “We are deploying additional resources throughout October and continuing past Election Day.”

He said these resources include “expanded processing procedures, extra transportation, extra delivery and collection trips and overtime.”

Additionally, Mr. Daiutolo said “the use of extraordinary measures beyond the normal course of operations is authorized and expected to be executed (through Nov. 24) to accelerate the delivery of ballots, when the Postal Service is able to identify the mail piece as a ballot.”

Mr. Kuligowski said he has no problem trusting the Postal Service with his ballot this year. Ms. Ellwanger didn’t want to place any blame on the post office either.

“I would trust them. I think everybody in the Postal Service is trying to do their best,” she said. “I don’t want to blame anyone or any institution, and I think that’s why I put the responsibility on my own shoulders.”

Mr. Daiutolo does not believe the Postal Service is in over its head.

“The anticipated volume of election mail will still be less than our holiday season volume, which we successfully deliver every year,” he said.

Similarly, Ms. Sheehan was confident her agency would be able to pull through for Delawareans.

“There are numerous safeguards in place to ensure only a single active ballot per voter,” she said.

Furthermore, according to the Department of Elections’ Frequently Asked Questions page: “Each (vote-by-mail) application received from a voter is reviewed by a Department of Elections team member. Any issues or questions are referred to an experienced supervisor for research and resolution.”

Ms. Sheehan said the department wants “everyone to know that each absentee and vote-by-mail ballot will be tabulated, and that no vote totals are tabulated until after close of polls on Election Day.”