Berks County voters will have two locations where they can drop off their mailed ballots.
The elections board voted Thursday, Oct. 15, to move up the date when a second ballot drop box at the Berks County Agricultural Center will be accessible to voters wanting to deliver their ballots. That Bern Township location will now start receiving mailed ballots on Monday, Oct. 19.
"It's much easier to get to the Ag Center for the vast majority of people, and there's more parking," Commissioners Chairman Christian Y. Leinbach said. "That's something we should be doing sooner rather than later."
Collection at that second site had been scheduled to begin Oct. 26. The first drop box, located in the lobby of the Berks County Services Center on Court Street in Reading, has been accessible to voters since early this month.
The Reading drop box can be accessed Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and will be secured by deputies from the Berks County Sheriff's Department. The same will be true of the Ag Center site once it opens.
Workers in the election services department will collect the ballots at the end of each day and seal them when the centers are closed to ensure the ballots remain secure. The drop boxes will remain available until 8 p.m. on Election Day.
The board reminded voters that those who choose to drop off their ballots are not allowed to drop off ballots belonging to anyone else — a practice called ballot harvesting. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last month that the practice is illegal.
There was further discussion at the election board meeting about expanding the hours and days in which those locations are open to make the boxes more accessible to voters, adding evening and weekend options. But a final decision was tabled to gather more feedback about whether the county has the manpower to collect the additional ballots and to provide security at those locations.
Also at the meeting, the board voted to explore establishing a service that will send text messages to county voters notifying them of important election information.
The decision was prompted by a meeting Commissioner Kevin S. Barnhardt held this week with local advocacy organizations that offered to cover the cost of the service and to provide a contact list of county voters.
Barnhardt said the text messages would notify voters of deadlines for registration, to apply for a mailed ballot, to have those ballots sent back to the county and of when the polls are open on Election Day. He stressed that the messages would make it clear that the information is coming from the county and direct people to visit the county elections website for more information.
"I think this is a good idea," Barnhardt said. "I'm trying to take any and all stress off our election workers so that they are not spending that time answering questions when they have plenty of other work to do."