Bucks County, Pennsylvania, previously fraught with concerns over its elections, just proved it is responding to the pleas of voters nationwide to further secure its ballot procedures. Since the 2020 election, the county has received complaints about late election returns, meaningful poll-watcher observation, processing absentee ballot envelopes and provisional ballots, ballot shortages, issues with e-poll books, and other issues.
These allegations are not unlike those made in other Pennsylvania counties, but what is notable is the county’s response: increasing transparency and security. One of these major procedural improvements comes in the form of granting greater observation access to poll watchers.
In the most recent election, this county allowed poll watchers almost unlimited access to observe the counting and processing of absentee ballots. This is a stark contrast to election practices in other Pennsylvania counties, which have notoriously restricted poll-watcher access, allowing poll watchers to be present in the room but not within a distance necessary to observe the ballots themselves or how they are counted and recorded.
Restrictions in place for the 2020 election were challenged, reaching the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which ultimately sided with the trial court, holding that Pennsylvania’s statute allowing poll watchers to be present for the counting and recording of votes did not imply that poll watchers were entitled to meaningful observation of the ballots themselves. Even as COVID-19 concerns have generally lapsed, observation of elections in some Pennsylvania counties has not improved much.
Bucks County, however, applies a strategic combination of transparency and security where it matters most by allowing observers meaningful access to its centralized absentee ballot counting location — absentee ballots being among the most significant concerns of election skeptics. (The passage of Act 77 and its expansion of mass mail-in voting has amplified these concerns for many voters.)
Observers were allowed to observe mere feet away from ballots and poll workers. Observers were also given frequent explanations of the process so they could understand what was happening. Yet voters need not worry about new security concerns due to increased access, because the county also had law enforcement officers on-site and live video recording of key areas, which was projected on large monitors for the public to see.
Meaningful observation of elections may also lessen some of the tension between poll watchers and workers. In Fulton County, Georgia, where poll watcher access was also a point of contention, an independent monitor appointed by the State Election Board for the 2020 vote remarked that granting poll watchers greater access may have prevented “a great deal of stress” and that “it would have been easier for them (observers) to see that Fulton had absolutely nothing to hide.”
In Bucks County, the relationship between poll workers and observers seemed friendly, with both sides striving for accuracy and transparency.
Increasing transparency in ballot processing is exactly the kind of step counties need to take to increase public confidence in their elections. As evidenced by past elections, voters can hardly be expected to blindly trust a process they cannot observe, making them less apt to trust results.
According to a recent article in Politico, Bucks County is considered a key county in the 2024 presidential election. Keeping this in mind, it is reassuring to see this county taking preventive measures now before they are inevitably hit with another wave of high voter turnout.
Bucks County’s increased transparency is a win for all parties. For the 2023 municipal elections, we have yet to see the same election integrity complaints raised by concerned voters in previous elections, signaling that voters in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, win or lose, can rest a little more secure in the value of their vote.