Let this sink in for a moment: "In-person mail-in ballots."
The long, winding road to the Nov. 3 presidential election may still have a few twists ahead. Lawsuits and changes to the election law in Pennsylvania still are playing out in one of the country's premier battleground states.
A new phrase, meanwhile, could soon enter the election lexicon in Philadelphia and, perhaps, in other counties of the Keystone State as well: the in-person mail-in ballot.
So what is that? It's a mail-in ballot that a voter gets in person, fills out on the spot and then hands back in all during one visit to an election board office.
Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt raised the possibility of the in-person mail-in ballot Tuesday when asked about offers to use two sports stadiums in South Philadelphia as polling places.
"They are designed to be open to the public," Schmidt, a Republican, said in an interview with NBC10 about Lincoln Financial Field and the Wells Fargo Center. "While we don’t allow early voting or regional voting centers in Pennsylvania, one thing we are seriously looking at is in-person mail-in drop-offs."
Some states allow voters to cast ballots before Election Day while others permit regional polling places instead of the much closer proximity that Pennsylvania election law demands, Schmidt said.
For instance, Philadelphia has 1,703 divisions, which, under normal circumstances in the past, have used 803 polling places. In neighboring Montgomery County, there are typically about 350 polling places. But the COVID-19 pandemic changed that. In the June primary, Philadelphia and Montgomery County opened only 190 and 140 polling places, respectively.
Schmidt said Philadelphia election officials are now considering the arenas for a polling center that could accommodate large numbers of voters filling out mail-in ballots and returning them during the same visit.
He defended the in-person mail-in ballot as something that's always been done, except under a different name.
"This is not unusual. We’ve had it for many years with absentee ballots," Schmidt said. "People showed up at City Hall and said they'd be out of town for the election. So they'd get a ballot, fill it out and hand it back in. This is not anything different. It’s just on a much higher order of magnitude."
The ballot a voter turned in would not differ from its current sealed form or be counted any earlier than current state election law permits, Schmidt said. That means a voter would have to fill out the ballot, seal it in a "secrecy envelope," put it in outer envelope and seal that one too, then hand it to an election official, who would certify it.
The envelopes would not be opened until Election Day, as is required by current state law (which could also change before Nov. 3). Gov. Tom Wolf has said he would like early vote-counting, also known as pre-canvassing, to be allowed to start 21 days before the Nov. 3 election.
Schmidt said that even if the stadiums aren't utilized this election, the in-person mail-in ballot could be. The City Commissioners are also considering pop-up election board offices in locations around Philadelphia.
The idea to use the Wells Fargo Center, where the 76ers and Flyers play home games, and the Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles play their home games, came up in the aftermath of the NBA boycott following Jacob Blake's shooting.
Blake, an unarmed Black man, was shot seven times in the back by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. NBA players decided not to play in protest last week after the shooting. As part of their agreement to resume the league's playoffs, one of the ideas involved using basketball arenas in cities across the country as voting centers.
Schmidt said it doesn't work that way in Pennsylvania, but that doesn't mean they can't be used.
"The way it’s being framed is very narrow and unfair," he said of the debate over the stadiums. "Because there are many uses we could have for those facilities."