Election Q&A with Long-Time Volunteer Laura Horowitz

I’m compiling information on this most unusual of elections from a variety of sources. This is a Q&A with Laura Horowitz who has been doing GOTV and candidate work for many years.

The goal of a vote plan is to encourage an individual to envision themselves voting and identify any potential barriers they might have or encounter. You can make a vote plan for yourself or with someone when phone banking, canvassing, or in normal conversation.

Your Name:  Laura Horowitz
Your Pronouns: she/her/hers
Your Affiliations for Voting/Campaign Work :Order of the Phoenix, campaigns of Emily Skopov, Jessica Benham, Lissa Geiger Shulman, Pam Iovino, Conor Lamb, Back to Blue PA, others

How do you describe your identity? cishet female

Please tell us a little about your work on these issues during previous campaigns?  I’ve worked and advocated for LGBTQ rights and justice for quite a while now.  My activism probably started when I volunteered for the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force in the early 1990’s.

In Pennsylvania, what options do we have to cast our ballot (aka vote)?
We have 3 options.
1.  Vote at your polling place in person, as usual.  At this time all polling places are scheduled to be open.
2.  Vote by mail.  You can apply online at votespa.com.  Every registered voter in the county will also receive a paper application.  Ballots can be returned in the mail or in person at the Elections Board, 542 Forbes Ave downtown.  Please note that you may only return YOUR OWN ballot, not anyone else’s.
3.  Return or complete your mail in ballot at the county elections office OR at one of the satellite locations the county announced this week.  Here’s the list of locations, dates, and times:

Voting in person before November 3 will not begin until ballots are ready. Editor’s Note – Here are the dates in Allegheny County

where to vote in Allegheny County

I know this is very confusing, but I want to be clear about what we are now permitted to do to vote.  PA does NOT have early voting in the strict sense.  Early voting means that you go to a polling place that looks and functions exactly the way polling places do on election day-same ballot, same mechanism for completing it.  That is not what we are able to do this fall.  When you go downtown to vote or to one of the satellite locations, you can return a completed vote by mail ballot.  Or you can request and complete a vote by mail ballot right there.  It may look different than the ballot that voters will see on November 3, and it has to be filled in by hand.  Does it make a difference to the voter?  Not really, in my view.  The contents are identical.

What are important upcoming deadlines to register to vote, request a mail-in ballot, etc?

October 19, 2020 – Last day to REGISTER before the November election
October 27, 2020 – Last day to apply for a mail-in or civilian absentee ballot
November 3, 2020 – Last day for County Boards of Elections to receive voted mail-in and civilian absentee ballots (must be received by 8 P.M.)
November 3, 2020- GENERAL ELECTION Polls are open from 7 A.M. to 8 P.M. If you are in line at 8 pm, you are legally entitled to vote.

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Ballots postmarked on November 3 and received on or by November 6 will be counted, according to a PA Supreme Court ruling this past week.

I understand that my partner and I can drive Downtown to the County Courthouse Building on Grant Street and individually take our completed ballots to the Department of Elections. Originally we
planned to do this on Election Day, but now I hear about early voting. Please explain. I’m not even sure if its the right building.

The Elections Board is NOT in the Courthouse.  It’s a block behind it, at 542 Forbes Ave, 6th floor.

See above.  This has never been done before in Allegheny County.  Prior to this, you were only allowed to vote early if you were going to be away on election day and if you qualified for one of the exemptions that allowed you to vote absentee.  Now anyone can vote early and no reason has to be provided.  Parking and access will be easier at one of the satellite locations, but no one can predict how long lines are likely to be or how long it will take to request a mail in ballot, fill it out, and return it, or whether those ballots will go directly into a drop box or be handed to an elections board staffer.

Editor’s Note – my partner and I took our completed mail-in ballots to the County Office Building on October 6. No problems at all. 

There was a ruling about signatures on ballots. Was that a good decision or not? It is so overwhelming trying to sort through this. This was a good decision because until now a ballot could be disqualified if a single employee decided that the signature on the return envelope didn’t match the one on the original application closely enough.
Here’s an AP article about the decision:  https://apnews.com/fc464c287c18823ff57fedc13facf7e5

Is it still the case that we should request our mail-in ballot and send it in as soon as possible, that this is the best voting option? The advocacy organizations with whom I’m volunteering are pushing VBM hard.  I think VBM is safe and reliable.  But I think voters should choose the option they feel most confident about.  Many states have had these options for years and they have worked quite well.

My concern as a person with a disability is my stamina to stand in line to vote or stand in line to drop-off my ballot in person. Is anyone making provisions for accommodations?

I haven’t heard anything about that.

What does having a voting plan mean? It means learning about the various voting options that are available and thinking about which ones will work best for you under different circumstances.  This description from the National Council of Jewish Women is very helpful in thinking through the options and possible scenarios.

Vote planning is a technique to ensure voters turnout to the polls. The goal of a vote plan is to encourage an individual to envision themselves voting and identify any potential barriers they might have or encounter. You can make a vote plan for yourself or with someone when phone banking, canvassing, or in normal conversation. Develop a vote plan by asking questions such as: • What time will you be voting? • Where are you voting? • Do you have a mail-in ballot or are you going to the polls? • How are you getting there? • Do you need a ride? • Who else can you bring with you? • Do you need to take off work or secure childcare? • In states with voter I.D. laws: Do you have all the necessary documents to vote? Answering these questions will help you plan how to vote and ensure you and your community members are able to cast your ballots.

If readers want to volunteer to turn out more voters, what are their options? To volunteer for the Biden/Harris campaign, go here:   https://www.mobilize.us/BackToBluePA/ To volunteer for a statewide campaign concentrating on candidates for the General Assembly, go here:  https://turnpablue.org/

Every candidate has their own website as well, and you can sign up there for individual campaigns.

Volunteer activities include phone banking, text banking, post card writing, and lit drops.  There are also a few door to door voter registration campaigns happening.

Do “I voted” stickers really work? I don’t know how you would measure that, but I think that anything that contributes to a culture of voting is a good thing.  People ask about yard signs too.  This year we’ve seen an unprecedented number of reports of Biden/Harris signs being stolen from people’s yards.  That tells me we’re hitting a nerve with the Rs.  Signs for Democrats in red areas are powerful in my view, because they counter the prevailing culture in those areas and give people on the fence cover and comfort if they choose to vote Democratic.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? I have been saying for years that if voting weren’t so important, the right wouldn’t be trying so hard to take it away from us.  Voting is your super power!  Use it and encourage your  progressive contacts to use it as well.

Allegheny County Elections office:  412.350.4500
Election Protection:  1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683)

Thank you, Laura.


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  • FYI

    I personally delivered my completed ballot to the Allegheny County Elections Board at 542 Forbes. When I walked up to the building, a masked security guard outside told me where to go before I even asked him. Ballot drop-off is on the GROUND floor, up the stairs of the Forbes entrance, then turn left. Everybody was masked. When I handed him my ballot, the clerk asked me if I had followed all the instructions, if my ballot was inside the secrecy envelope, and if my valid signature was on the voters’ pledge. Yes to all, I replied. He then gave me a “I voted” sticker. Everybody was very nice.

    Parking of course is a PITA, but I parked illegally (the horror!) on Forbes. Between walking the half-block from my car to the building, turning in my ballot, and returning to my car, I was parked for a grand total of 5 minutes.

    As always, YMMV.

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