General Assembly poised to postpone primary until June
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The state House of Representatives will take up an amendment to the state election code Tuesday that would postpone the April 28 primary until June 2, a House spokesman said Monday.
The postponement would align with Gov. Tom Wolf's statewide mitigation efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness.
"Members are very aware of the challenges, and they want to ensure that we have a safe and a fair and accurate election," said Mike Straub, spokesman for state House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny.
Wolf said in a news conference Monday that he would support the legislation.
Seven states and one U.S. territory have already put their primaries on hold. Those are Georgia, Ohio, Maryland, Indiana, Louisiana, Connecticut and Kentucky, according to The Associated Press, as well as Puerto Rico, according to Politico.
The legislation would also allow county election officials to start processing mail-in ballots — which are expected to surge this year — ahead of the primary, Straub said.
If the amendment passes the House, it will be sent to the Senate for a concurrence vote Wednesday, Straub said, and could be signed by the governor later that day.
Wolf made mail-in ballots available to all registered voters when he signed an election reform bill last year.
"Postponement or not, we’re pushing the mail-ins, just like we were before the pandemic," said York County spokesman Mark Walters on Friday.
If the primary remains scheduled for April 28, voters have until 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 21, to apply for a mail-in ballot, and information about applications is available online at votespa.com.
Mail-in ballots must be returned to the York County Office of Elections and Voter Registration no later than 8 p.m. the evening of the primary, Walters said.
It's not enough for the ballot to be postmarked on the date of the primary, because the ballot must be in the possession of county election officials by the time the polls close.
If a voter requests a mail-in ballot but forgets to send it in, instead deciding to vote in person at their polling place, they will be given a provisional ballot, which is used when there are questions about a voter's eligibility that must be resolved before the vote can be counted, Walters said.
County officials have said they're prepared to have the primary in April, but they would prefer to have it postponed in light of the outbreak.
The York County Board of Commissioners submitted an official request to the state to postpone the primary until June, said Commissioner Julie Wheeler.
Knowing for sure when the primary will be held will likely be a relief to those making the decisions about how to best protect county employees and voters.
"Until the state makes a definitive decision, we’re kind of in this limbo position," Wheeler said Friday.
The county is working to make sure there's enough room at the Elections Department office to process the increase in mail-in ballots, she said.
"I’m just really proud of our county employees kind of coming together and working together as we manage this evolving situation," Wheeler said of the county's overall response to the public health crisis.
State health officials have urged Pennsylvanians to stay home as much as possible, wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their faces.
Gov. Tom Wolf issued a shelter-in-place order for Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Monroe, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties Monday, and he extended the statewide school closures through at least April 6.
As of Monday, Pennsylvania had 644 confirmed cases of the virus, including 10 in York County.