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Residents Voting by Mail Encouraged to Submit Applications Soon

by on May 05, 2020 8:26 PM

For the first time, all Pennsylvanians have the option of voting by mail in the June 2 primary election, and state and county officials are urging those who choose to do so to submit their applications as soon as possible.

Bipartisan legislation signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf last fall made mail-in ballots possible starting this year, even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and resulted in the rescheduling of the primary from its original April date. 

“We are in an unprecedented time and are facing a major public health crisis in a presidential election year,” Wolf said on Monday. “I want Pennsylvanians to know that they have options for how to cast their ballots, including both voting by mail and voting in person. Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and Pennsylvanians can still cast their ballots while keeping themselves safe and healthy.”

Nearly 1 million Pennsylvanians have applied for mail-in ballots as concerns and uncertainty continue to surround the pandemic. Applications for mail-in (and absentee) ballots are due by 5 p.m. on May 26.

Like everyone else, though, elections offices are dealing with the impacts of the pandemic, too, and Wolf said applications should be sent in as soon as possible. Applications are available at votespa.com.

"I strongly encourage Pennsylvanians considering voting by mail to apply as soon as possible," he said. "Our county elections offices are also coping with the COVID-19 pandemic so providing them with as much time as possible to process your application and get your ballot in the mail is a great way to thank them for their hard work."

In Centre County, about 11,500 of the 109,220 registered voters have applied for mail-in ballots, County Commissioner Steve Dershem said on Tuesday.

During their meeting on Tuesday, the commissioners approved a request to return two county employees from furlough to full-time status to assist with processing mail-in ballot applications. 

"One of the challenges that presents is getting them processed and getting them out in time for the June 2 election," Dershem said. "I would really suggest if you intend to vote absentee or vote by mail that you get those applications in sooner rather than later. It is a laborious process and this is our first time."

Polling places will be open for in-person voting on June 2, but counties around Pennsylvania will have some challenges.

Because some experienced poll workers are older and among vulnerable populations, Dershem said last week that he expected a need for dozens of new volunteers. Centre County residents have since begun to heed the call.

"We had quite a number of people reach out to us over the last week and indicate they were willing to help, so I’m very encouraged we’ll be OK for Election Day," Dershem said.

Anyone interested in being a poll worker can fill out a form here.

Board of Commissioners Chair Michael Pipe previously said that protective kits would be available at each precinct. During a press conference on Monday, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said the kits would include masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, sanitizing cleaners for equipment and floor-marking tape to establish appropriate distancing.

Boockvar said that workers and voters will be expected to abide by any mitigation measures that are in place, such as wearing masks.

Some polling places also may change or be consolidated, particular those located at senior living facilities. Dershem said decisions had not been made about that as of yet for Centre County, but he expected some consolidation to happen.

Boockvar said the Wolf administration is urging schools and other facilities that may otherwise be closed because of current COVID-19 restrictions to work with counties to serve as polling places.

"Facilities such as schools, other public or private facilities such as community centers, clubs, halls, all such facilities may and will be encouraged to serve as polling place locations on June 2," she said.

Schools can be compelled under state law to serve as voting sites, though private establishments cannot, Boockvar said.

She added that the Department of State will be working with counties on issues regarding polling place consolidations, locations and necessary staffing.

Last week, Pipe said he hopes as many county residents as possible vote by mail to reduce safety risks, but said polling places will be open and ready on June 2.

"We would love it if every ballot that’s cast is before the election, and our poll workers set up shop, nobody comes in because everybody’s voted by mail and they pack up and go home," Pipe said. "That would be terrific, but we are pragmatists. We understand the practical nature of people still wanting to cast their ballot [in person]."

Mail-in and absentee ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on June 2.

"To help us get a speedy count back on June 2 this will be a part of that process, getting a good head start, getting everybody organized and certainly getting those ballots into everybody’s hands so that they can vote," Dershem said.

 



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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