Samuel Vargas is no stranger to voting in elections by mail.
Vargas, a senior film and media arts major, always voted with an absentee ballot since the 2016 general election.
This year, before Gov. Tom Wolf closed non-essential Pennsylvania businesses on March 17th, he applied for an absentee ballot in the upcoming primary election, he said.
“I know that when the quarantine happened a lot of people didn’t get their absentee ballots within a couple days, as you should,” Vargas said. “Due to the high demand, it was coming later. I did mine super early so I got mine early so I got it within regular time.”
Although some students are accustomed to voting by mail, some have concerns about the safety of mail-in voting versus in-person voting. Due to COVID-19 concerns, Pennsylvania’s primary election falls on what has been deemed a new “Super Tuesday,” since it was rescheduled from its original date of April 28th, along with many other states, CNN reported.
The five-week delay on the primary allowed polling places to obtain necessary personal protective equipment for voters and poll workers, like masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, as well as enough paper and envelopes to supply mail-in ballots, the Inquirer reported.
Vargas always votes by mail, but gets concerned something may go wrong from the time he fills out the ballot and sends it from his house to the time it gets to the Bucks County Courthouse, he said.
“Anything can happen from the moment you write your ballot, put it in the mailbox, wait for the mailman to get it, they go through their process and get it to the proper person there and go through the paperwork,” he added.
In other years when primaries were in-person, Vargas’ parents and grandparents would vote, he said.
“But this year, my grandparents didn’t vote because they were so used to the fact of absentee ballots and everything,” Vargas said.
Most counties in Pennsylvania are facing the challenge of processing an “unprecedented volume” of absentee and mail-in ballots during this primary, said Patrick Christmas, policy director for the Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan organization promoting representative and effective government for Philadelphians and Pennsylvanians.
In Philadelphia, communities of color largely have requested mail-in ballots at lower rates than white communities, Christmas said.
“Not every section of the electorate is going to access or respond to these procedures the same way, and so there are going to be disparities,” he added. “This happens anytime you make a big change in the way you vote, in the way you run an election. It doesn’t impact all voters the same way.”
While neighborhoods in Center City and Northwest Philadelphia have requested mail-in voting ballots at high rates, many other areas of the city have not requested these ballots at the same level, Christmas added.
“That’s also a top concern that everybody has because every eligible voter who wants to cast a ballot should have every opportunity to do that,” Christmas said.
For Jonathan Atiencia, a non-matriculated film and media arts major, this primary election was his first time voting by mail.
Besides waiting three to four weeks for his ballot to come, he did not have any issues with voting by mail. But, he thinks in-person voting is an important experience for United States citizens, he said.
“Going in person was pretty fun and wonderful experience as a citizen of the United States to vote for who you want,” Atiencia said.
Despite challenges that may occur with the June primary election and the November general election, he hopes to see mail-in ballots replace more in-person polling centers going beyond the 2020 election, Christmas said.
“People need to know that our local election officials and our state election officials are serious people and they take their jobs very seriously and a great deal of integrity,” Christmas added. “Despite the confusion and the noise and again the disinformation around mail-in voting in particular, folks need to stay focused on the fact that these procedures do work, there are real safeguards.”