Data on June 2 primary could prompt election changes in November

Legislature wants data on how coronvirus changes affect voting

  • Emily Previti/PA Post
Join PA Post and WITF for a free virtual screening of the new documentary, TIME SERVED, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27. The film follows two Iraq war veterans who benefit from programs aimed at helping former service members who commit crimes. After the screening, the producer and a panel of experts will discuss how the criminal justice system’s treatment of veterans is changing. Register to attend here. —Emily Previti, staff writer

Mike Stewart/AP Photo

A touchscreen voting machine and printer in a voting booth, in Paulding, Ga. Early. voting for Georgia’s June 9 primary began on Monday, May 18, 2020. (Mike Stewart/AP Photo)

The Pennsylvania Department of State would have to issue a detailed report on the June 2 primary within 60 days under a bill that passed the state House of Representatives on Tuesday afternoon by the near-unanimous vote of 201-1. The legislation, House Bill 2502, asks DoS for a breakdown of:

  • The number of absentee and mail-in ballot applications submitted by voters, and approved or rejected by officials, in each county in advance of the primary.

  • The number of mailed and absentee ballots returned by voters

  • The number of provisional ballots cast in each county.

Most of that data is included in a report submitted each year to the legislature. HB 2502’s goal is to get that data to lawmakers sooner, presumably so they can evaluate it in advance of the November election.

Dos would also be required to report on each county’s tally of poll workers,  polling places and ballot challenges.

DoS already tracks all of that, too, except counts of poll workers — that would be an additional reporting requirement for counties.

State Rep. Mike Carroll (D-Luzerne/Lackawanna) says he cast the lone vote against the measure to avoid creating more work on counties — and it wasn’t clear to him Tuesday afternoon whether the measure would do so.

“Piling on this kind of extra reporting when there’s already a short gap between the primary and general is just too far for me,” Carroll said. “This year, with what we are asking these county election officials to do … it’s just too much.”

Under HB 2502, counties also would have to report the time they begin processing ballots on Election Day (they can do so as early as 7 a.m) and how many mail-in ballots were sent to the wrong place or person, or cast by someone other than the intended registered voter.

The bill now moves to the Pa. Senate.

Debate on HB 2502 comes on the heels of Pa.’s voter registration deadline this past Monday. In past years, that deadline would have fallen two weeks earlier, but was moved as part of a big election reform bill enacted last fall. You can learn more about all the election changes in this overview.

That overview also highlights the counties that most dramatically changed their polling place schemes for the primary. Basically, county officials can move and combine voting locations for the 2020 primary without the oversight typically required under temporary rules enacted by the legislature in March. The polling place provisions are meant to address poll worker shortages and reduced in-person voting activity anticipated due to the pandemic.

Monday was the deadline for election officials to finalize their lists of venues and post them online and at their main offices. Many counties told me yesterday that they’re directly notifying voters by mail, alerting local news outlets, pushing out the info through county social media accounts and taking other steps to get the word out about changes beyond the postings required for the 2020 primary by Act 12. More details to come on that later in the week.

The thing is, election officials don’t want voters to turn out in person unless it’s absolutely necessary due to coronavirus.

To hammer home that point, Philadelphia election officials tucked more than 90,000 mailed ballot applications and informational flyers into food boxes being distributed to lower-income voters they fear will vote in person or not at all, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The move comes after Philly’s mail-in ballot application rate hung below the statewide average for two consecutive weeks (we’ve been getting the data every Wednesday, so will check on that again today). The application deadline is next Tuesday, May 26 (VotesPA.com).

Meanwhile: Idaho had its first all-mail election Tuesday, while Oregon ran its seventh presidential primary by mail.

And in Georgia: Despite light turnout for early voting for the state’s June 9 primary, voters had to wait more than an hour at some polling places on Monday. The lines were attributed to social distancing and extra time needed for election workers to clean voting machine touchscreens after each use, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

As for Pennsylvania, voters in most counties won’t experience delays caused by screen cleaning. Fifty-five counties are using hand-marked ballots (including four counties that just recently decided to go that route rather than use touchscreens due to COVID-19) and will give each voter a new pen.

(See also from the Pittsburgh Post-GazetteAllegheny County election officials describe around-the-clock efforts amid ‘perfect storm’)

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Anthony Orozco / PA Post

Centro’s offices are closed to public visits, though it is still feeding seniors. The windows of the center’s building in downtown Reading are filled with informational posters. (Anthony Orozco / PA Post)

  • Reading’s Centro Hispano Daniel Torres Inc. is filling the news void for Berks County’s Spanish-speaking community in response to the pandemic. “There are no Spanish newspapers in [the] area and there is only one televised source and that comes on at 11 p.m.,” as Michael Toledo, president and CEO of Centro Hispano, told PA Post’s Anthony Orozco. Anthony took a detailed look in his latest story at how the organization, on top of its already full slate of services, has been translating and distributing information from local governments and reputable news outlets.

  • Real estate offices across Pennsylvania will resume business Friday — even though Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a bill that would have required their reopening. PA Post’s Ben Pontz explains what looks like a contradictory action by a governor who insisted the real estate industry was not a life-essential business and therefore should not be exempted from coronavirus restrictions.

  • Pennsylvania trumpeted its ramped up COVID-19 testing procedures for nursing homes as “robust” and designed to pinpoint even asymptomatic cases. But Spotlight PA’s Aneri Pattani found facilities can opt out of the plan and talked to advocates who say the state’s strategy is insufficient. Aneri will discuss her reporting this morning on WITF’s Smart Talk starting at 9 a.m. Stream it live here.

  • Related coverage of nursing homes: Most Pa. nursing homes with 20 or more coronavirus deaths are in Philly and its suburbs, long-sought data show; FULL LIST: Pa. releases names of nursing homes with coronavirus cases, deaths

  • The public can now watch Pennsylvania State Supreme Court arguments online; however, the commonwealth’s top court says journalists cannot broadcast audio or video of the proceedings. A spokesperson told Miles Bryan of Keystone Crossroads: “To our knowledge, we are not aware of anyone failing to comply with the policy however should that occur, the Court would review it on a case by case basis.”

  • Pennsylvanians are buying liquor in record-setting amounts, despite state wine and spirits stores being closed for most of the past few months. The spike in consumption worries addiction and public health experts, who predict a rush for treatment of related issues and point to increases already in calls to the commonwealth’s help hotlines (including from people whose main concern is running out of alcohol). Ivey DeJesus runs through how the pandemic is normalizing excessive consumption, dramatic consequences specialists are warning about and more in this story for PennLive.

  • Flour has become scarce as more people pick up baking to fill their time during quarantine, and mills are scrambling to package flour for sale in the relatively small quantities consumers are demanding. Julie Grant took a look at factors specific to the shortage in Pennsylvania for this Allegheny Front story.

  • “While the coronavirus raged through cities and across the country, air quality researchers were granted the gift of a natural experiment, one that would be very difficult to replicate,” Susan Phillips writes in her latest for StateImpact Pennsylvania. Still, one expert Susan talked to says it could take years to assess whether air quality has shifted significantly, let alone tie those changes to public health outcomes. So far, the improvements have been modest, she reports: Right now in Philadelphia, for example, ozone continues to be produced by industrial and chemical plants even though the roadways seem much quieter. And as NPR recently highlighted in this data visualization-heavy report, passenger traffic has plummeted dramatically as commercial trucking activity dipped only slightly.

  • Restaurants have pivoted to takeout and delivery as Pennsylvania and other state governments banned dine-in services in an effort to contain COVID-19. Often, they’re connecting with customers through apps designed to make ordering more convenient — and taking a hit on their bottom line from the associated fees. Maggie Weaver found some restaurants are netting less than half their total sales made through one long-standing, well-established delivery app — despite the company pledging to cap such fees at 20 percent — in this story for Pittsburgh City Paper. Meanwhile, PublicSource looked at the problem of “tip-baiting” and how at least one delivery driver decided to fight back by striking out on her own. (Episode 9 of  the From the Source podcast.)

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