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(Editor’s Note: This article is made possible by Votebeat, a non-partisan reporting project that covers the integrity of local elections and access to voting. This article may be reprinted for republication under the terms of the Votebeat Policy.)

A week before the November 3rd elections, state officials urged voters not to risk their voting slip arriving late in the mail and instead to return it in person.

All voters could do this at their polling station, but some Pennsylvanians had the additional options of dropboxing and satellite locations. The latter increased the number of places where people could essentially vote ahead of time by personally requesting and filing a ballot on the same day.

Of the state’s 67 counties, six of the most populous have decided to open relief offices. Pro-voting organizers said they made voting easier and more accessible for those who could not or did not want to vote.

But after the most expensive elections ever, counties are unsure how or if they will continue to use satellite offices. The next opportunity is the local area code on May 18, the first election with a lower turnout under the law, in which a postal vote was carried out without an apology.

It is also unclear whether the offices contributed to this year’s record turnout of 71% of the voting age population.

State officials did not provide an exact number of how many voters used the satellite offices, but a State Department spokesman said about 125,000 ballots were cast in person in a county or secondary election. That’s roughly 5% of the 2.6 million postal ballot papers that were cast in the general election.

Of the six counties that Votebeat and Spotlight PA have contacted, only Bucks County has firm plans to use the offices in the future.

Philadelphia election officials are currently in discussion with the mayor’s office and city council about future funding of satellite offices, a spokesman for the city commissioners’ office said. Spokesmen for the four other counties – Allegheny, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery – said officials had not yet decided whether to use these offices in the future.

At least one Republican in the State House wants to make it impossible for counties to use them in the future.

Adams County Rep. Dan Moul said he planned to introduce laws that would ban both dropboxing and satellite offices – an idea that his caucus overwhelmingly supports.

His complaint is widespread under the GOP: the Democrat-controlled Supreme Court of the state had legislated from within the bank when judges were ruling on electoral matters.

Satellite polling stations and drop boxes have been the target of unsuccessful litigation by the Trump campaign and the state’s Republicans. The GOP argued that they violated the state’s electoral code and claimed, without evidence, that they increased the risk of electoral fraud.

State Supreme Court justices said the additional voting services are in line with the intent of Law 77 to give people more choice. A federal judge dismissed another lawsuit because the Trump campaign could only claim that the law would theoretically lead to fraud.

“Yes, sometimes the postal system is not very credible, I understand, but if you think it is not credible, take it to a permanent office at the polling station and hand it in.” Said Moul. “Take it to the courthouse and drop it off, it’s not a difficult thing.”

But such a ban is unlikely, at least in the last two years of Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s tenure.

wolf “Would veto such an attempt in order to reduce citizens’ access to the kinds of choices that were widespread in these elections and that many other states have enjoyed for years.” said Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokesman for the governor.

Millions of costs, unclear returns

In January, the state sent the counties guidance on Act 77, the law that brought an unapologetically mailed ballot to Pennsylvania and removed an option for direct voting on ballot papers.

Erie City Councilor Carl Anderson III, chairman of the electoral committee, said officials there had been exploring various options they believed would help them run the new postal voting system – without breaking the bank. They decided against satellite offices, but were the first county in the state to approve a Dropbox.

The metal container in front of the district court, which was already under constant surveillance, cost only about $ 2,000, according to Anderson. Satellite offices would have meant hiring more workers and taking additional security measures.

“We just said, ‘There’s no way we can do this kind of expense'” Said Anderson.

Few have done so, despite the fact that 40% of the state’s population lives in the counties where satellite offices have been established for the general election.

In Philadelphia, officials expected each office to cost an additional $ 100,000. The city eventually funded 17 with part of a $ 10 million grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life. Bucks and Delaware Counties were using existing locations to control costs, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in August.

These satellite offices gave many voters the opportunity to securely drop their postal ballot papers closer to their place of residence than the central office of their district. Suburban districts kept satellite offices open until 8 p.m. on some days of the week, well beyond the normal working hours of the district governments.

In some locations in Bucks County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia, there were long lines of voters who wanted to request a postal ballot without risking problems with the US Postal Service.

“There was great interest in personally requesting a ballot from our branch offices.” Montgomery County spokeswoman Teresa Harris told Patch in October.

To get voters excited and make the experience more enjoyable, campaigns and pro-voting organizations in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh popped up outside some of the voting venues, offering music, free food, and a block-party atmosphere.

“Standing in line doesn’t seem so boring when you have music and a drum corps, you eat really good food from a food truck.” said Andy Toy, director of development and communications at SEAMAAC, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that serves refugees and immigrants.

In October, SEAMAAC brought a food truck to one of the city’s satellite offices and offered free food to passers-by. Toy said the agency has focused on encouraging those in the Asian and Pacific Islander communities to vote in recent years and has been promoting satellite voting venues in Philadelphia this year.

“To make it a real community, you can’t argue with that, I don’t think so.” Toy said.

The ability to vote on a Saturday or Sunday is also a blessing for those who might not be unemployed on election day, and the festive atmosphere helped some voters feel more comfortable than in the elections.

“In general, you won’t find Asian Americans working as polling workers at the polling station, and you know that something that initially feels intimidating is even more intimidating.” Toy said.

Limited English proficiency in the surveys can add to this discomfort, he said.

In Pittsburgh, a coalition of civic groups called PA Black Votes Matter helped host similar outdoor parties at weekend satellite offices in mostly black neighborhoods.

Calyx Deroche, media and data advisor for the Pittsburgh-based Black Political Empowerment Project, said the option to cast a vote over the weekend would help voters and that the games, music and food had added to the excitement this year Vote led.

The organizers even billed an event at a satellite office as a tailgating party for a Pittsburgh Steelers game.

“It was a great celebration and people responded to it.” said Khalif Ali, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, a watchdog and voting group. Ali attended one of the events next to a satellite office in Pittsburgh in October.

Despite the community celebration, it is unclear whether the events, at least in Pittsburgh, ultimately boosted voter turnout, said Will Anderson, chief of staff of the Democratic National Committee’s Black Caucus and director of the Allegheny County Democratic Black Caucus.

The satellite offices themselves are a great option to make voting more convenient, but parties outside of them are “More expensive than it is advantageous” Said Anderson. “We would rather invest this expenditure in educating the voters and in the public relations of the voters. We can have our own parties and celebrate after the elections. “

However, some political scientists and pro-voting groups point to research that suggests that election festivals are a successful strategy for increasing voter turnout.

Experiments conducted over the past few years by Donald Green, a professor of political science at Columbia University, showed voter turnout increases by about two percentage points in areas where the festivals were sponsored.

However, it is unclear whether festivals will prevail in future elections. When it comes to spreading a new campaign tool, Green said: “The question in American politics is always whether it is profitable for campaign consultants.”

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