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Westmoreland GOP commissioners once again reject drop boxes for mail-in ballots

Westmoreland County’s two Republican commissioners declined a request from several voters to install drop boxes throughout the county before the April 23 primary.

The county's two Republican commissioners declined a request from several voters to set up drop boxes across the county before the April 23 primary.

During the elections board meeting on Thursday, seven voters urged the commissioners to approve drop-off boxes for mail-in ballots.

Both Republicans, Sean Kertes and Doug Chew, stated that they would not change their position for the primary or for the general election in November, despite the expected higher turnout.

Democratic Commissioner Ted Kopas supported installing at least one drop-off box behind the county courthouse on North Pennsylvania Avenue, but failed to garner support for the idea.

Kopas also suggested that the elections board recess the meeting instead of adjourning it, to consider the possibility of placing a drop-off box. He noted that he has yet to hear any valid arguments against the drop boxes from his fellow commissioners.

Diana Steck of North Huntingdon, a Democrat, accused the commissioners of voter suppression for ignoring Kopas.

Kertes mentioned that the drop boxes used in previous elections were not widely used. He also stated that having drop boxes at various locations would require the county to pay an employee to monitor them and prevent voter fraud.

Kertes argued that requiring voters to drop off their ballots at the Elections Bureau in the courthouse is not a significant inconvenience compared to having a drop box in the courthouse lobby.

Jerome Selia of Murrysville dismissed the cost of monitoring drop boxes as a smokescreen, pointing out that 8,000 voters had previously used the drop box in the courthouse.

Steck suggested that drop boxes should be spread throughout the county to make it easier for voters with mail-in ballots. She highlighted the challenge of finding open parking near the courthouse in Greensburg during the day.

She also mentioned the difficulty for people with disabilities or illness to walk uphill from the parking garage on West Otterman Street to the courthouse in Greensburg.

Steck emphasized that even having one drop box outside the courthouse in Greensburg would be beneficial to voters.

Steck pointed out that relying solely on the mail for ballots is not completely reliable.

Chew responded to concerns about mail-in ballot delivery by stating that the elections bureau records the ballots received each day and provides the information online for voters to check if their ballot was received by the county.

Chew stated that the county has made it easier for voters with mail-in ballots by sending them postage-paid envelopes for their ballots.

Chew emphasized that efforts were made to ensure that ballots were sent out in time for voters to mark and return them.

In anticipation of a high voter turnout in November, Chew noted that only 75% of mail-in ballots were returned in the 2020 presidential election.

While the commissioners previously stated that the drop boxes were not used much in recent elections, Lisa Messineo of Penn Township said they would be used much more in a presidential election year than during the midterm elections two years ago.

The Republican commissioners' failure to approve drop boxes for the county “sure feels like and looks like an effort at voter suppression,” Selia said.

Chris Baldonieri of Latrobe wondered why the commissioners will not allow drop boxes.

“Do the right thing, or come up with an excuse to do the wrong thing,” Baldonieri challenged the Republican commissioners.

“It’s not a partisan issue,” Steck said.

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