Mail voting, new machines feature in Pennsylvania primary

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(Harrisburg) — The once-delayed Pennsylvania primary won’t determine the presidential nominees, by now a foregone conclusion. But the voting in two weeks will feature legislative and congressional races, a first run for some new paper-record voting systems and the inaugural use of newly legalized mail-in ballots.

Voter registration will end Monday for the June 2 primary. The latest figures show many Pennsylvanians have embraced the state’s new vote-by-mail option that was passed last year but has been widely adopted as a way to avoid pandemic exposure.

More than 1 million Pennsylvania voters have requested mail-in ballots, including 700,000 Democrats and 310,000 Republicans. For the first time, voters can obtain mail-in ballots without providing one of the excuses that have long been required for absentee voting. More than 220,000 Pennsylvanians have requested absentee ballots for the primary as well.

Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP Photo

Robb Rehfeld wears a mask as he walks to cast his vote during a special election for California's 25th Congressional District seat Tuesday, May 12, 2020, in Santa Clarita, Calif. Voting will look much different this year across the United States.

Those who vote in person will see the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of social distancing guidelines and fewer polling places. State election officials are urging people to check online to see whether their precincts have been moved or consolidated for the primary.

Strategists on both sides will be watching the results for trends, as the pandemic has brought changes that could make a difference in the fall.

“We encourage our candidates to knock on doors,” said Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, who leads his caucus’ campaign efforts. “How does door knocking look over the summer? We’re trying to figure that out.”

Row offices

The most high-profile electoral fight in the primary may be the Democratic battle for the auditor general nomination, where six candidates are challenging the sole Republican who filed to run in the fall. The two-term incumbent, Democrat Eugene DePasquale, is term limited.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro does not face a Democratic primary challenger and appears headed toward a November face-off with the only Republican candidate, Heather Heidelbaugh.

In the third statewide row office primary race, both incumbent Democratic Treasurer Joe Torsella and Republican Stacy Garrity are unopposed.

Congressional delegation

All 18 members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation are running for another term, but only two have primary opponents. U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is challenged by Andy Meehan for the GOP nomination in Philadelphia’s suburbs, while U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle is defending his Pittsburgh seat in a Democratic primary contest against Jerry Dickinson.

Primary voters will also pick delegates and alternates for the two major parties’ presidential nominating conventions.

State legislature

There are 17 seats opening up due to retirements in the state House, which currently has a 110-93 Republican majority. Eleven are Republican-held seats being vacated by Speaker Mike Turzai and Reps. Cris Dush, Matt Gabler, Mark Keller, Mike Tobash, Justin Simmons, Marcia Hahn, Garth Everett, Marcy Toepel, Tom Murt and Steve Barrar.

About a quarter of the House are certain to be back next year — they have neither primary nor general election opposition. Nearly half of all members face only an opponent in the fall. Just 15 state representatives out of 203 seats — nine Republicans and six Democrats — have both primary and general election contests this year.

Democrats are hopeful they can flip at least some of them, with targets that include the seats being vacated by Simmons, in the swing area of the Lehigh Valley, as well as Murt and Barrar, among the increasingly rare Republican districts in the Philadelphia suburbs.

The six House Democrats who are not running again are Reps. Harry Readshaw, Bill Kortz, Neal Goodman, Tom Caltagirone, Steve McCarter and Rosita Youngblood.

Democrats in seats where President Donald Trump won four years ago can expect particular attention from Republicans this year. House GOP hopes include Goodman’s seat, and Readshaw and Kortz represent Pittsburgh area districts heavy with the sort of moderate western Pennsylvania voters that have been trending Republican.

Those seats are part of Democrats’ hopes of retaking control of the House, said Rep. Leanne Krueger, D-Delaware, her caucus’ campaign leader.

“We’re only nine seat out of the majority and we believe we can flip the House this year,” Krueger said.

Half of the 50-member Senate is also up this year, with four senators facing no major party challenger in the primary or general: Philadelphia Democratic Sens. Sharif Street, John Sabatina and Vince Hughes; and Schuylkill County Republican Sen. Dave Argall.

Two incumbent senators face primary opposition on June 2, both Democrats: Minority Leader Jay Costa of Allegheny County and Sen. Daylin Leach of Montgomery.

There are two open Senate seats, as President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-Chester, are retiring.

Changes in store

The new voting systems will be in play for the first time in 22 of the 67 counties.

Voters will also be subjected to heightened social distancing restrictions, and in counties that use hand-marked ballots, they can bring their own blue or black ink pen to further avoid the spread of infection.

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