Wolf, Boockvar provide primary election update
Gov. Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar held a public livestream May 4 to provide an update on Pennsylvania’s June 2 primary election, discuss protective measures for in person voting and encourage Pennsylvanians to cast their ballots by mail.
“From where we stand today, it is unlikely we’ll eradicate COVID-19 from our commonwealth by June 2, but we still need to hold a primary election,” Wolf said. “Free and fair elections are essential to who we are as a country, and democracy is perhaps even more than ever during times of crisis.”
Wolf acknowledged voters may be discouraged from gathering at public polling locations because of the coronavirus.
The mail-in system, which requires no reason or excuse for use, was implemented as a part of Act 77 of 2019, a voting reform bill signed into law with bipartisan support.
“At the time, we had no idea how important this change would be for the health and safety of Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said. “This allows voters to make their choices from the safety of their own home, then send in their ballot through the mail.”
In addition to the mail-in option, Wolf said polling places will still be open for in person voting on Election Day.
He noted that protective equipment — including masks, gloves, hand and surface sanitizers, and floor marking tape — would be distributed by the Department of State, along with guidance for conducting safe voting.
Wolf was asked about whether in-person voters will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing.
He said decisions will be made by individual polling places and the state would not weigh in or force compliance.
However, he stressed the voter’s responsibility to not place one another at risk of infection.
“Each of us, all 12.8 million Pennsylvanians, have the responsibility for not infecting our friends and neighbors, the people that we’re close to,” Wolf said. “If you go to any place and you’re not wearing a mask, or you’re not doing everything in your power to keep people around you from being infected … that’s just not a good thing to do.”
In closing, Wolf thanked poll workers, election officials and voters for working together to “make this primary election successful and ensure that every vote counts,” and said he hoped the mail-in option would keep Pennsylvanians safe and encourage participation going forward.
“I’d like to emphasize how important it is for voters to have their voice heard and to be able to cast their ballot, even in a pandemic, and I encourage voters who wish to sign up for mail-in voting to do so as soon as possible,” Wolf said.
“Voters will have this option on June 2 and in all elections in the future. I hope it allows many Pennsylvanians to have their voices heard that otherwise couldn’t.”
Boockvar said the Department of State has embarked on a comprehensive voter education effort to inform the public on the new primary date and “urge the safe, secure and easy option of vote by mail.”
Boockvar said the campaign has been very effective.
As of May 4, 960,000 applications have been submitted for mail-in or absentee ballots, with 76 percent of applications being submitted online at votespa.com.
She noted voters who already applied for a mail-in or absentee ballot for the originally-scheduled April 28 primary election do not need to reapply.
“We all know that we’ve been under stay at home orders,” she said. “Regardless, on Election Day every voter can leave their home — exercise proper social distancing, wear masks, do everything that’s in place for the COVID-19 emergency — you should feel free to go ahead and exercise your right to vote.”
She also said conversations have begun with the National Guard about having guard members serve at polling locations if counties face a poll worker shortage and said if called upon, guard soldiers would be serving in plain clothes.
To cover election costs, the state has received $14 million from the federal government in CARES Act COVID-19 funding and approximately $15 million focused on election security and administration efforts.
Some $13 million will be sub-granted to counties to increase staffing and equipment, buy protective supplies, facilitate the “increase in volume of mail-in and absentee ballots,” and cover any other actions needed to improve voting safety, security and administration.
“I want to assure all Pennsylvanians that in the lead up to, and on, June 2 we will safely and efficiently do what America does best; we will vote in a secure and safe election,” Boockvar said.
Boockvar was asked why the state was not moving to a mail-only election.
She said the best course of action to balance voting access with public health emergency needs is to have a hybrid election with in person and vote-by-mail options.
She also noted that some voters with disabilities “cannot vote by mail without assistance at this time,” and said federal law mandates the state to provide opportunities for voters with disabilities to vote.
“There’s not enough time to really ensure adequate participation in our democracy by vote by mail alone,” she said.
To find polling locations, voters should follow information from county election offices, and can check votespa.com/polls or call 1-877-VOTESPA in the weeks before Election Day to check polling locations.
All ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day.