Last-minute primary change doesn’t apply to most Pennsylvania voters

Mail-in extension applies to 6 counties only. Ballots there still need to be postmarked by 8 p.m. tonight!

  • Emily Previti/PA Post
Pennsylvania’s 2020 primary election is happening during an exceptional event — the coronavirus pandemic. We’ll have reporters keeping tabs because we want to know how it goes for Pennsylvania voters, whether they’re casting their ballot in person or by mail. Please share your experience or ask questions through our Listening Post. —Emily Previti, staff writer
Gov. Tom Wolf speaks to reporters Monday evening in Philadelphia, where he was touring parts of the city damaged during the weekend’s protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Governor's Office live feed

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks to reporters Monday evening in Philadelphia, where he was touring parts of the city damaged during the weekend’s protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Screenshot from Gov.’s Office livestream)

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday that the state would allow an extra week (until June 9) for mailed ballots to arrive at elections offices in six counties, so long as they’re postmarked before tomorrow.

The change applies only to Erie, Allegheny, Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware and Dauphin counties — each of which is covered by an emergency disaster declaration Wolf issued in response to protests over the death of George Floyd.

Except, that’s not what Wolf said at first. The way the announcement happened created confusion — and more to come, critics say.

The governor provided very few details when he told reporters late Monday afternoon that the ballot return deadline would be extended by one week for the 2020 primary.

Speaking outside the office of state Rep. Isabella Fitzgerald (D-Philadelphia), Wolf made no mention that the order was limited to a half dozen counties or that it still requires voters to postmark ballots by 8 p.m. tonight.

Beyond the initially muddled messaging, the executive order’s limited application is prime fodder for legal challenges and even more confusion, says Dauphin County Elections Director Jerry Feaser.

It creates grounds for contesting results in races for statewide offices and certain legislative districts that include multiple counties where voters might face different deadlines by depending on which county they live in, Feaser said.

“It’s an unfair advantage because these races often are decided by voters going  with their hometown [candidate],” Feaser said. “It’s also going to create massive confusion for voters.”

Feaser pointed to the race for the Democratic nomination for state Auditor General. Three candidates are from jurisdictions (Allegheny, Dauphin and Philadelphia) where voters’ ballots now have more time to make it through the mail to their local elections office. The three other candidates are from Centre, Monroe and Lancaster — where mailed ballots still must be received before 8 p.m. tonight.

The disparity among counties also could create equal protection issues, said Ray Murphy, Keystone Votes state coordinator, referring to the basis for many voting rights legal challenges.

Asked about those potential problems with the order, Wolf’s spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensginer said:

“The executive order does not extend the time to vote for anyone, it merely extends the receipt date for certain counties … so that voters in those counties, through no fault of their own, are not disenfranchised by circumstances that necessitated the disaster declaration and are increasing challenges already presented by the ongoing pandemic.”

Asked about the threshold for inclusion in the emergency disaster area, Kensinger said “the civil unrest experienced in those communities over the past several days” resulted in “the need of those counties for additional time to count ballots.”

But demonstrations over the past three days in other counties — including LancasterCentre and Berks — were arguably as disruptive, not to mention the coronavirus.

“At what point does civil unrest matter or not matter?” Feaser said. “There’s just no logic to it.”

Republicans in the General Assembly already are eyeing a challenge, according to a GOP statement issued late Monday night.

Best of the rest

Screenshot from video

Daniel Spizarny, police chief for Erie, speaks during a news conference in at Erie city hall on June 1, 2020. (Screenshot from official livestream)

  • Erie officials say the police officer caught on video kicking a peaceful protester last weekend came forward and identified himself. But they aren’t naming him and say the department’s own internal affairs division will handle the investigation into the incident. The city’s police chief also says the officer isn’t out on the street, though he remains on duty, PA Post’s Ed Mahon reports.

  • In Philadelphia, protesters blocked traffic on Interstate 676 last night, after which state troopers released tear gas into the crowd to try to clear the six-lane highway. Ultimately, dozens of demonstrators were detained (some held against the expressway median) and carted away in a sheriff’s office bus, Laura Benshoff and Aaron Moselle reported for WHYY. City officials also clarified Monday that Philadelphia voters will have access to the polls today until 8 p.m. (6 p.m. curfew notwithstanding).  If you’re wondering how and where to vote in Pennsylvania, which health precautions will be taken at the polls due to the pandemic, and what could change ahead of the general election Nov. 3, we’ve got answers here.

  • York County NAACP President Sandra Thompson touched on voting as a key action community leaders should encourage people to take to effect change, a point she made during a discussion about racism and violence on the latest episode of WITF’s SmartTalk: “Tomorrow, it’s the time to vote. Everybody needs to get out there to vote, because politicians affect policy, and policy affects how people are treated and who is held accountable.”

  • Thompson’s message echoed others around the country. George Floyd’s brother called on the Minneapolis community “to stop looting and encouraged them to channel their frustration into voting instead,” The Guardian’s Grace Panetta wrote. Atlanta rapper and activist Michael “Killer Mike” Render urged residents to “beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth. It is time to hold mayoral offices accountable.”

  • Lancaster officials say they believe white nationalists initiated violence during otherwise peaceful protests Sunday. The mayor says they’re reviewing surveillance footage to try to identify between five and 15 armed white men in their 20s and 30s who hurled bottles and rocks at city police, LNP’s Jeff Hawkes reported. On Monday, police joined demonstrations in the city that lasted late into the night and remained peaceful.

  • State officials released a bleak financial report Monday: May tax revenues were down 17 percent compared to the same month last year. That’s about $440 million. Fiscal analysts say about half of that loss is attributable to coronavirus-driven shutdowns, but the other half could simply arrive later when the delayed tax filing deadline arrives. Bottom line: we won’t really know exactly how the pandemic has affected state coffers until months from now, as Spotlight PA’s Charlotte Keith reports.

  • Half of Pennsylvania’s counties are expected to be “green” by Friday — the phase in Pa.’s gradual reopening when hair salons and barber shops can reopen. But it won’t be business as usual, according to state guidance issued Monday. This York Daily Record story details some of the changes to expect.

  • Reuters is the latest news organization to look at the controversy over the ExpressVote XL voting machines bought by Philadelphia, Northampton and Cumberland counties. Read the story here.

The president’s afternoon walk:

The Washington Post headline says a lot: Before Trump vows to end ‘lawlessness,’ federal officers confront protesters outside White House. Federal law enforcement officers cleared a peaceful protest from Lafayette Park (across the street from the White House) so President Trump could walk to St. John’s Church to see damage caused over the weekend.

Here’s links to how Pa.’s congressional delegation reacted specifically to this event:

Others issued comments about the George Floyd killing and the resulting unrest:

Further reading:

Coronavirus update:


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