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COVID-19 shouldn’t stop voters

Law makes provisions for emergency absentee ballots

COVID-19 cases have been surging locally and statewide, and tracers have been identifying close contacts, so there are bound to be lots of people who ought to avoid voting in person today.

But that doesn’t mean they should refrain from voting altogether, according to the Departments of State and of Health.

“If you can’t deliver your own balloting materials, you can assign a designee to do that for you,” said Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, as quoted in a news release. “And if you can’t find a designee, the law actually requires the county election office to have a sheriff’s deputy or some county official to deliver the balloting materials (to you).”

To vote through a designee, those in isolation or quarantine should contact their county election office for an emergency absentee ballot application, according to the release.

That application form lists possible reasons for needing an emergency ballot, including illness occurring after the deadline passed to apply for a non-emergency absentee ballot.

“Every Pennsylvanian who is registered to vote will have the opportunity,” Boockvar stated.

Those who applied for but have not submitted mail ballots should bring them today before 8 p.m. to their county election office or a designated drop-off location, according to the DoS.

Mail ballots

Mail ballots must be sealed in an inner secrecy envelope, which is in turn placed in an outer envelope, on which a voter declaration must be completed and signed.

Voters may only deliver their own ballots, unless they are delivering one for a disabled person who has designated them in writing to do it.

Voters with completed mail ballots should not take them to in-person voting locations, according to the DoS.

“Voted mail ballots will not be accepted at polling places,” the news release states.

People who have received mail ballots and who’ve changed their minds and want to vote in person can bring the ballots and both the inner and outer envelopes with them to a polling place, where they can vote after the mail ballots have been destroyed.

People who applied for mail ballots that they never received, people who received a mail ballot but who’ve lost it and people who mailed ballots they think may arrive too late can go to their polling places and cast a provisional ballot.

“Their county board of elections will then verify that they did not vote by mail before counting their provisional ballot.”

Polls are open today from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

If voters are in line by 8 p.m., they must be allowed to vote at polling places.

That doesn’t apply to drop-off boxes, which are to be shut down at 8 p.m. on Election Day, even if there is a line, Boockvar has said.

Voters can find their polling places on the Department of State’s voting website, votesPA.com, according to the news release.

Polling places will be safe, according to Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.

She recommended that voters equip themselves with a “COVID-19 kit” –mask, hand sanitizer, their own black or blue pen and the COVID Alert app on their smartphone.

Counting the votes

There is no legal basis for anyone to call for stopping the vote count before it’s complete, said Boockvar on a Webex conference call with reporters Monday, in answer to a reporter’s question.

Because of the large number of mail-in votes — 3 million were confirmed for mailing, with 2.4 million, or 78% of them, returned so far — counting won’t be finished election night, she said.

That hasn’t stopped President Donald Trump from calling for outcomes to be declared on election night, including and perhaps especially in Pennsylvania, which could be decisive in the election.

“It takes time for votes to be counted,” even in a normal year, “and nothing about this year is normal,” Boockvar said.

It hasn’t helped that the General Assembly left in place the statutory requirement that pre=canvassing must not begin until 7 a.m. Election Day, she said.

The absurdity of the demands to be finished with counting on election night is most obvious with overseas and military ballots, which are never due until a week after Election Day, according to Boockvar.

“No one wants to see the men and women overseas or anywhere disenfranchised,” she stated.

Moreover, the DoS isn’t scheduled to certify the results until Nov. 23.

“There’s no basis in the law for someone other than us” to certify those results, she said.

Voters can wear paraphernalia supportive of a candidate at the polls — T-shirts with logos, buttons and hats — but may not electioneer within polling places, according to Deputy Secretary Jonathan Marks.

They may not hand out flyers or advocate for their candidate with other voters, for example, he said.

Showing ID

Only first-time voters and those voting for the first time in a precinct must show ID, according to a third news release. Acceptable ID includes both photo and non-photo IDs.

Registered first-time voters who don’t have IDs can leave to get IDs, but otherwise must be offered a provisional ballot.

A voter who is challenged on identity or residency can still vote by signing a challenge affidavit and producing a witness who is a registered voter in the precinct, according to the DoS.

Voters who decline to do this can cast a provisional ballot.

Voters have the right to assistance at polling places, including foreign language and literacy help, according to the DoS.

Voters do not have to put up with intimidation, harassment or discrimination. Those who experience any of that should report it to the county board of elections and the district attorney’s office, according to the DoS. They also can report it to the Department of State directly at 1-877-VOTESPA.

“The fundamental presumption is that we want to enable all valid, eligible, qualified voters to vote,” Boockvar said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler can be reached at 814-949-7038.

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