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Thousands opt for mail-in ballots

Blair received 8,122 completed ballots as of noon Monday

Mirror photo by Kay Stephens Chantal Sisko and Jeremy Nelson spent Monday at the Blair County elections office sorting absentee and mail-in ballots submitted for today’s primary.

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County voters have already submitted 8,100 absentee and mail-in ballots for today’s presidential primary, a record amount in light of COVID-19 and the state’s expansion of the rules permitting the option.

How that affects this year’s overall turnout should be revealed today when voters head to polls where they will have a better chance of getting some fresh air than finding competitive races on their ballots.

Four years ago, when Donald Trump was leading a long list of Republicans vying for president and Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were fighting over their party’s nomination, 30,171 Blair County voters cast ballots, county records show.

For this year’s primary, however, Trump and Democratic candidate Joseph Biden are already presumptive nominees.

The rest of the ballot, for Blair County’s Republicans and Democrats, features mostly single candidates seeking nominations for congressional seats and for state attorney general, treasurer and representative. The exception is the Democratic contest for state auditor general with six people, including Scott Conklin of Centre County, vying for the nomination.

There also is a contested race for the 72nd State House Republican nomination in Cambria County.

Blair County received a record 12,362 requests for absentee and mail-in ballots, Assistant Director of Elections Virginia Clapper said Monday where county employees sorted the mailed ballots by precinct.

As of noon Monday, 8,122 had been returned and more mailed ballots were expected, Clapper said.

Voters with absentee and write-in ballots can drop them off through 8 p.m. today on the Union Street side of the Blair County Courthouse.

If someone cannot find their mailed ballot, Clapper said they can still show up to their voting poll and cast a provisional ballot, subject to review and counting.

Records distributed to the poll workers, she said, will indicate if voters asked for an absentee or mailed ballot and if the county received it. If the record shows a ballot was mailed and returned to the county, then the voter doesn’t get to vote a second time, Clapper said.

Blair County commissioners, who make up the board of elections this year, are assembling at 8 a.m. today at the highway building to begin what the state is referring to as pre-canvassing, which is an inspection of mailed ballots that are opened, reviewed and computed.

That process, introduced this year through election code changes in light of the coronavirus pandemic, prohibits release of the mailed vote tallies before 8 p.m. today. As for when they will be released, that might depend on when the pre-canvassing work is finished.

The elections board, chaired by Commissioner Amy Webster, has a notice posted on the county website, indicating that if the board doesn’t get done today with its review of mailed ballots, then it will resume the task starting at 8 a.m. Wednesday. If it doesn’t finish Wednesday, then it will meet at 8 a.m. each day thereafter until the job is done.

Counties throughout the state will follow the same process that will likely factor into the availability of county and statewide election results. More than 1.8 million voters applied for an absentee or mail-in ballot, a move permitting them to avoid potential exposure to the coronavirus.

At recent weekly meetings, commissioners have been encouraging people to vote in today’s primary. County election leaders have offered assurance that measures are being taken to keep the voting process safe.

Commissioner Laura Burke also asked voters, during the May 26 commissioners meeting, to be respectful of those staffing the polls because they have been instructed on protective protocols.

The county is asking voters to wear masks inside their voting polls. Voters can also take their own blue or black ballpoint pen to mark their ballots.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

Primary info

— Blair County has consolidated several precinct voting locations for today’s primary. For information, check the county’s 2020 election information on its www.blairco .org website or look for a sign at your usual voting location.

— Blair County will use Elections System & Software’s DS200 Scanner and Express Vote voting machine and electronic tabulating equipment, which generates a paper trail that can be used to verify vote totals. Blair County voters used this equipment for the first time in November.

— All polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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