census 2020

All-Mail Elections could be the answer.

By Ashlee Green

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Update 4/20/2020: Allegheny County elections officials are now in the process of mailing every person who is eligible to vote in the June 2 primary election an optional mail-in ballot application.

The Pennsylvania primary has been delayed until June 2, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said in-person voting at that time is still “a mandate from the state that’s unrealistic.” While voters have the choice to vote by mail, the real issue, he said, is the health and safety of the poll workers.

Polling locations, Fitzgerald said, are often not county locations. Instead, they are churches, schools, community centers, Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, and car dealerships.

“These folks might not even let us be there,” he said.

Election rules are made at the state level, Fitzgerald explained, and the job of the Pennsylvania Board of Elections, made up of Fitzgerald, Council Member Sam DeMarco, and Council Member Bethany Hallam, is to carry them out. Though it’s possible that the primary could be pushed back further, Fitzgerald said it’s unlikely. He’d like to see Pennsylvania follow the lead of Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado, and Hawaii, and switch to All-Mail Elections. 

“We’re seven weeks from election day. In places like Oregon, they mail out their ballots three weeks before the election. We still have time to do that and meet the June 2 deadline,” Fitzgerald said.

According to Fitzgerald, the Board of Elections is required to staff a couple thousand poll workers at about 600 polling places throughout Allegheny County, with five poll workers at each polling location. These workers, he said, tend to be retired seniors, one of the demographics most at risk for contracting COVID-19. He urged Allegheny County residents to opt to vote by mail instead.

Due to an order by Gov. Tom Wolf back in 2018, every county in the state has implemented new voting machines with paper trails. Whether or not you vote in-person, Fitzgerald explained, you’ll be using a paper ballot.

“The ballot you get when you show up at a polling place will be the very same ballot you will receive in the mail,” Fitzgerald said. The only difference, he said, is that if you vote in-person, your ballot will be put through a scanner. Mail-in ballots, on the other hand, will be put in an envelope, and then put in the mail.

COVID-19 has already deterred people from attending church services, visiting movie theaters and festivals, and celebrating family functions such as weddings and graduations, Fitzgerald said. “There’s no question,” according to him, that COVID-19 will deter people from voting in-person at the polls this year too. 

“Until there’s a treatment or a vaccine, I just don’t think that people are going to have the confidence to go out and expose themselves to a potential virus,” he said. 

As far as mail-in voting goes, Fitzgerald said that any time there’s a change, mistakes will be made, but thinks they can be reduced by hiring enough staff. 

“If we’re not permitted to eliminate the in-person voting, we still want to encourage as many people as we can to vote by mail: It’s safer for the voter, it’s safer for the worker, and it’s more convenient all the way around.”

You can register to vote for this year’s primary election by Monday, May 18, and apply for either a mail-in or absentee ballot by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 26. All mail-in and absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2. For more information or to sign up for a mail-in or absentee ballot, visit https://www.pavoterservices.pa.gov/ or call 1-877-VOTESPA (1.877.868.3772).

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