State touts mail-in ballot option for primary

Blair hears update on election preparations


HOLLIDAYSBURG — Pennsylvania’s newest voting option — mail-in ballots for any reason — could come in handy leading up to the April 28 primary.

Those who don’t want to head to their voting precincts that day to avoid possible exposure to coronavirus or for another reason, have until April 21 to request a mail-in ballot, Blair County Director of Elections Sarah Seymour said Tuesday.

For those planning to go to the polls, Seymour reported to Blair County commissioners during Tuesday’s weekly meeting that she has already ordered disinfectant wipes for use on voting machines and hand sanitizer for every Blair County precinct.

“I’m encouraging people to do the mail-in ballot and to apply now,” Commissioner Amy Webster said Tuesday afternoon by phone. “With the coronavirus, the timing is great … because we don’t know how long things will be affected.”

Webster also depended on the phone to join in Tuesday’s weekly meeting, due to her ongoing recovery from pneumonia.

“I’m doing what President (Donald) Trump said, staying home if you’re sick,” Webster said.

Commissioner Bruce Erb said Tuesday that he completed an online application Saturday for a mail-in ballot and found the process to be easy. He also said he already received an email from the state, indicating his application was received.

His decision to vote by mail, Erb said, is reflective of other responsibilities on that day.

Erb, Webster and fellow commissioner Laura Burke, make up the county’s elections board that supervises the primary.

Starting this year, the board is also required to convene on the night of the April 28 primary and begin counting what is expected to be a significant increase in mailed ballots.

In previous elections, mailed ballots were accepted only from absentee voters, defined as those who would be outside their municipality on election day and those with an illness or disability keeping them from voting in person. While those reasons are still valid for requesting absentee ballots, others electing to vote by mail do not need to have an excuse.

Allowing voters to submit mailed ballots for any reason was part of Act 77 of 2019, the most significant change to the state’s Elections Code in 80 years, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said Thursday during a stop at the Altoona Mirror.

Voters in 30 other states, she said, have already had the option through some version of no-excuse balloting.

In mid-February, the state introduced a website to start taking online applications for mailed ballots, via www.votespa.com.

Since that option became available, 63,000 voters have requested absentee or mail-in ballots, Boockvar said.

In preparation for the April 28 primary, Seymour said she will need to identify poll workers willing to staff the county’s 93 pre­cincts. The county provides training for the task and a stipend.

Webster said she will encourage people to sign up for the task, especially if they are off work that day or could arrange their work schedule so they are available to work at their voting precinct.

“I think it would be fun to have that opportunity to be one of the (precinct) election officials, to be seeing your neighbor and the election process,” Webster said. “I think it would be great for people to do that at some point in their life.”

Those interested should contact the county election office at 693-3150.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.


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