Our interactive map is built to help voters answer questions about the state's June 2 primary. (Visual: Tom Downing. Data: Emily Previti and Ben Pontz.)
Our guide to voting in the June 2 primary
Coronavirus is driving changes across state
Emily Previti/PA Post
At last check, more than a million Pennsylvanians had applied to vote by mail in the June 2 primary — about a six-fold increase over the figure from four years ago.
And that number doesn’t account for the last-minute rush officials expect to see, given that there’s nearly two weeks remaining until the application deadline.
Modest growth in voting by mail was expected before the pandemic because state law changed last fall to no longer require an excuse from voters when requesting a mail-in ballot.
And thanks to those election law changes, Pennsylvania voters were in store for even more election changes — new machines in most counties, and extended registration deadlines, for example — before COVID-19 prompted additional adjustments to the state’s election process.
A handful of counties, home to half a million voters, made another major change recently, deciding to switch from touchscreen voting machines to scannable hand-marked paper ballots. About 10 jurisdictions confirmed they’ll still use touchscreens as planned and require voters to use a cotton swab or stylus to enter their votes as a way to reduce direct contact with devices that could be used by hundreds (or even thousands) of voters.
As of this week, five counties home to more than three million voters had finalized plans to drastically reduce in-person voting. Another dozen or so made adjustments that, while modest, mean some voters will need to double-check polling locations.
It’s a lot to keep track of. And that’s why Katie Meyer of WHHY and I pulled together everything you need to know about what’s changing (or not) and why (or why not), and how to fully prepare to vote in this year’s primary.
Our guide is online here, and it includes an interactive map I created along with Ben Pontz and WITF’s Tom Downing.
Our collaborative effort also includes some friendly reminders:
The following Tuesday, May 26 is the deadline to apply for an absentee or mail-in ballot, which you can do here. If you requested yours before Pa. decided to postpone the primary, no need to do so again.
If you’re concerned your ballot won’t make it to your county elections office before 8 p.m on June 2, you can drop it off in person. Our interactive map links to counties’ websites (where any polling place changes will post no later than Monday) and provides contact phone numbers.
Best of the rest
President Donald Trump touched down for a visit to medical distribution company Owens and Minor in Upper Macungie Township, near Allentown, Thursday. The president announced he’d signed “an executive order giving the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation the power to issue loans to U.S. companies to boost supplies needed to respond to pandemics,” according to NPR. Among The Morning Call’s Laura Olson’s top takeaways from the event: Trump didn’t wear a mask during his appearance and criticized Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. And he concluded his remarks with a shoutout to boxer Larry “the Easton Assassin” Holmes, a heavyweight prolific four decades ago, Lehigh Valley Live reports.
Ahead of Trump’s visit, Marc Levy of the Associated Press examined how national politics tie into Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic response. Wolf’s sparring with Republican county commissioners who say they plan to defy business closure orders by rolling them back before testing and case growth rates reach prerequisite thresholds set by state officials. Noting the president’s tweet that “Pennsyvlanians want their freedom” and similar comments to reporters, Marc writes: “Like in swing states Michigan and Wisconsin, Republicans are trying to ensure that Democratic governors, rather than Trump, take the blame.” His full analysis is here. The New York Times filed a similar piece yesterday: GOP Defiance of Pennsylvania’s Lockdown Has 2020 Implications.
A rally is scheduled today at noon in Harrisburg to protest Gov. Wolf’s shutdown order. Organizers predict a big turnout, more than the 1,000 that showed up at a similar rally on April 20, PennLive reports. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports on a Mercer County gym that refused to shut its doors, as well as speculation that Wolf will today announce that more counties will move to the yellow phase in a week.
State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale updated reporters Thursday on the progress of his office’s probe of the Wolf administration’s coronavirus waivers for businesses. He said his office has fielded more than 100 complaints about the process. And in what could signal that DePasquale has the governor’s back, he said his investigators have “found a ‘significant’ number of lobbyists and legislators advocated on behalf of specific businesses.” and are working to determine whether that influenced the Department of Community and Economic Development’s determinations, TribLive reports. Meanwhile, Wolf continues to fight the release of related records in response to a subpoena from Republica legislators, claiming the move would reveal proprietary information, according to Spotlight PA. BTW, the state published lists yesterday of which businesses whose waiver applications were denied.
Erie County Judge John J. Mead heard arguments yesterday in a lawsuit brought by two local police unions against the county Health Department. The unions want the county 911 center to receive names of people who’ve tested positive for coronavirus so that officers know ahead of time if they’ll be interacting with a patient. They sued after health officials refused an initial request for the information, citing privacy concerns, Madeleine O’Neill reports for the Erie Times-News.
Pennsvylania’s prisons have higher infection rates than the state’s worst hot spots. So, what does that mean for inmates and correctional officers at facilities in communities where officials are starting to relax social distancing, business closure and other public health precautions? PA Post’s Joseph Jaafari looked into it and found “without mass testing for both antibodies and the coronavirus, easing lockdowns in prisons is unlikely to happen any time soon and deferred until well after counties fully reopen.” Read his latest.
Traffic along Pennsylvania’s main roadways has dropped by more than a third since stay-at-home and business closure orders took effect in March, according to recent data from the state Department of Transportation. Passenger traffic subsided to nearly half its pre-coronavirus level, while truck traffic decreased by about 10 percent, PennDOT’s statistics show. Exact numbers varied across the state, but followed a similar pattern, LancasterOnline’s Sean Sauro reports. Preliminary numbers also suggest fatal car crashes declined — to the lowest rates since 1928, according to the Sunbury Daily-Item.
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PRI’s Marketplace: Latinas among those hit hardest by COVID-19 job losses
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