Flood of mail-in ballots spurs fight to change deadlines

Regional News

Processing work on mail in ballots for the Pennsylvania Primary election is being done by Tim Vernick at the Butler County Bureau of Elections, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Butler, Pa. Some county and state officials are warning that a flood of mailed-in ballots in Pennsylvania, fueled by fears of in-person voting during the coronavirus […]

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Some county and state officials are warning that a flood of mailed-in ballots in Pennsylvania — fueled by fears of in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic — will create problems in Tuesday’s primary election that must be fixed before they cause a disaster in this battleground state in November’s presidential election.

For one, they are warning that there will be no way to produce timely election results in November unless the law changes to allow counties to process mailed-in ballots before Election Day. Even in Tuesday’s relatively low-turnout primary election, election night results might be unlikely in closely contested races, they say.

“No one wants to be in the situation where the U.S. presidential race is coming down to Pennsylvania and there is a week or two delay on us in delivering a victor,” said state Rep. Kevin Boyle, D-Philadelphia.

Boyle plans to sponsor legislation to give counties more time to process the ballots, starting the Saturday before the election.

Boyle, with support from county election directors, pushed for a similar change in March when lawmakers voted to delay the primary election by five weeks to June 2. However, it lacked support from Republicans who control the House and Senate majorities.

Of more immediate concern is the question of whether voters can mail their ballots back to county election offices in time to be counted in Tuesday’s primary election. The deadline in state law is 8 p.m. on election night.

But some ballots are still in the mail to voters, less than a week before the primary election. A U.S. Postal Service spokesperson said most first-class mail is delivered in two to five days, but the Postal Service recommends that voters mail their ballots at least one week before the deadline to have them delivered to county election officials.

Montgomery County asked the state Commonwealth Court for an emergency order Wednesday granting seven additional days for ballots postmarked no later than Election Day to arrive and be counted. So far, other efforts to that effect in lower courts have failed.

In the meantime, some counties are working to provide alternatives — such as posting drop boxes in strategic locations — to voters who have not mailed in their ballots yet.

More than 1.8 million voters have requested a mail-in or absentee ballot by this past Tuesday’s deadline, according to state officials. More than 730,000 have been returned, state figures show.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s top elections official, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, said her estimate for the number of applications had been “blown out of the water” and that she at least hoped to work with lawmakers to change the law before the November election.

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