In Philly, mail-in voting centers are a blessing for some — and a headache for others

(Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Jamyra Perry

PHILADELPHIA — Voting looks a little different this general election.

In the past, most people headed to their local polling place to cast their ballot. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do almost everything, including voting, and some people are confused as to how these changes affect them.

In Philadelphia, the options available to vote include voting by mail, dropping off your mail-in ballot at a satellite voting office, and voting in person on Nov. 3.

Center City resident Kevin Hallman decided to drop his ballot off Friday afternoon at the County Board of Election office at City Hall.

“I used to work for the Postal Service,” Hallman said. “It’s a really good company and they do get the stuff done. But for all the stuff that’s going on now and all the shenanigans, I rather just take my ballot in because I don’t know what may happen in November.”

For years, Hallman has voted in person, but he jumped at the chance to vote early in this election.

“Normally I usually go in person,” Hallman said. “I go down to Graduate Hospital, that’s my polling place, but this year I felt that I just wanted to get mine done and drop it off, way in advance.”

He said that choosing a mail-in ballot gave him more time to consider his choices from the comfort of his couch.

“I think everyone should have a mail-in ballot,” he said. “I think it’s easier because you can do it at home in your own time and when you want to drop it off, you can. You can do it well in advance because a lot of people are not at work.

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“If it wasn’t for the COVID-19 pandemic, people would be working. In the past that has caused problems because you would have to get the day off or try and do it when you got off work. I think this is better if they can continue to do this and add it on to the voting process.”

Mt. Airy native Nicole Phillips enjoyed the ease of being able to drop off her filled-out mail-in ballot at a box outside City Hall.

“I like the convenience,” she said. “I feel confident in the procedure and the process. And it was just, you know, very to the point for me. It was very similar to stepping in the booth. The only thing is you don’t have the extra people, you’re just filling out your form and dropping it independently.”

A city worker, Phillips said having a location at City Hall made her feel more at ease with dropping off her ballot.

“Especially with this pandemic going on, I think it’s absolutely important to have options,” she said. “Drop off is a good one. I feel confident about this drop-off location. I think that plays a very big part. If I were going outside of my area to somewhere I’m not familiar with, then I would be a little uneasy, but I’m 100% secure about dropping it here at City Hall.”

Mail-in Voting Center volunteer Rachel Scarborough said a lot of people have questions and there are plenty of volunteers at drop-off centers to answer them.

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“A lot of people are having a hard time understanding what the rules are,” Scarborough said. “They have questions like ‘What do I need to vote?’ and ‘Where do I go?’ They are not sure if they filled things out properly and general things like that. The best way to answer those questions is to come out and talk to one of the volunteers.”

Scarborough said she had seen between 250 and 300 people come through Friday and she’s hoping for many more.

Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of dropping off a ballot or putting it in the mail. Mt. Airy pastor the Rev. Kevin Johnson said there have been unforeseen roadblocks put into place that will make it harder for marginalized voters to make sure their vote is counted.

“To cover the challenges that the Trump administration has initiated, what I have been telling my congregants and people who I have come in contact with, is to vote in person,” said Johnson, pastor of Dare to Imagine Church. “On Nov. 3 wear a mask. Take your chair. Take some water. Stand in the line, and make sure that you vote. It’s unfortunate that democracy is under attack. But at the end of the day, we have to make sure that we are heard.”

Precious Samuel, director of outreach for the Voter Project, said the best way to make sure your vote is counted is to make a plan, especially in wake of many polling places closing or being consolidated.

“This election is definitely the most important election of our lifetime,” Samuel said. “We have the chance to make our voices heard at all levels of the government, and we have to be sure that we create a plan to vote this election more than we’ve ever done before because there are so many different ways to vote this election.

“You can’t wake up on Election Day and say, Oh, I don’t, I don’t know. That’s not an option in this election. We need to make sure you’re voting, so plan ahead.”

Jamyra Perry is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared