Throughout my years in Congress and while working for Jack Murtha, I have never seen our country so divided.

Beyond the typical gridlock and partisanship that has become routine in our modern-day politics, there are times when a line in the sand must be drawn. That time is now.

For months, like the rest of my fellow Pennsylvanians, I have heard repeated rumors and myths about our electoral process and whether the use of mail-in ballots can be considered safe and secure.

Make no mistake, these falsehoods and outright lies that are festering on social media and embedded in political campaigns are intentionally designed to make you – the voter – apprehensive and nervous about voting in the upcoming election.

A vast majority of the individuals, organizations and political campaigns fueling these ideas and conspiracy theories are not from Pennsylvania. Perhaps their ultimate goal is to persuade certain individuals not to vote, but the real damage they are doing is the way in which they are sowing seeds of doubt and distrust in our electoral process.

Let me be explicitly clear on three things:

• First, mail-in ballots do not favor one political party over another;

• Second, mail-in ballots are a safe and secure method of voting;

• And third, members of our armed forces have used mail-in ballots (or absentee ballots as they are commonly referred to) since the Civil War.

Our country and state have a long and rich history of having free and fair elections, and Nov. 3 will be no different.

As of Oct. 12, more than 2.6 million Pennsylvanians, according to state data, had requested mail-in ballots.

During the primary, which was pushed back from May to June due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 1.4 million Pennsylvanians took advantage of mail-in and absentee ballots – making it the first time that mail-in votes surpassed in-person voting in Pennsylvania’s history.

In Pennsylvania, our elections are managed at the county level. When you cast your vote, whether in-person at the poll or with a mail-in ballot, remember that it is your neighbors, friends and family members who are the ones serving as poll workers and working in our county elections offices.

These individuals are our fellow Pennsylvanians. We should trust them and have confidence in their ability, as we always have, that every vote will be counted fairly and accurately.

Additionally, because our elections are handled at the county level, and due to the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots they’ll have to process this year, our leaders need to work together to provide them with the tools and resources necessary to ensure Election Day does not turn into Election Month.

Currently, our state’s 67 counties are not allowed to pre-canvass. Pre-canvassing allows counties to open envelopes, flatten and stack the ballots, and begin to scan them, so results can be determined more quickly once tabulation begins on Election Day. Votes would not be counted until the polls are closed.

Pre-canvassing is not vote counting and it is not early voting. It is simply an administrative tool that lessens the burden on county elections offices. It would help county election directors and their staff members sort and tabulate the votes more quickly on election night.

Depending upon the population size of the county, some may be forced to spend days or even weeks opening envelopes and organizing ballots – and that’s before ballots can even be tabulated. Our counties need legislation to be passed and enacted into law permitting them to conduct pre-canvassing.

With less than two weeks left until the election, time is running out.

No Pennsylvanian should have to risk their health for simply standing in line to vote. That’s why mail-in ballots are a great option for any Pennsylvanian with an underlying health condition, or perhaps, just does not want to risk exposing himself or herself at the poll.

We cannot forget that nearly 225,000 thousand Americans – our fellow citizens – have died as a result of the coronavirus. There are families across Pennsylvania and the nation who have lost loved ones and are struggling to navigate this new normal.

This virus isn’t just dangerous, it’s deadly.

There is no doubt that this year has tested and challenged our long-held beliefs, cultural norms and convictions.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest and political turmoil, do not let anyone convince you that our election is ripe for fraud.

I know the commonwealth will have a safe, secure and smooth Election Day because I have full faith and confidence in my fellow Pennsylvanians – and you should too.

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2010-13. Prior to serving in Congress, he was a longtime staffer and district director to U.S. Rep. Jack Murtha. He is a member of VoteSafe Pennsylvania – a diverse coalition comprised of former elected officials, community leaders, nonprofit organizations working to ensure that every Pennsylvanian feels safe to vote in the upcoming general election.

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