Philadelphia — and much of the nation — is waking up this morning after a day and night of protests spurred by the May 25 death of George Floyd, whose neck was knelt on for nine minutes by a Minneapolis police officer. We’ll continue to update our coverage throughout the day. You can find live developments here.
First up, what all is on the ballot, aside from the presidential race?
Terruso: Plenty! Primary elections for Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional seats in the U.S. House are on the ballot as are the state’s executive offices — auditor general, attorney general and treasurer. The Pennsylvania Senate and House also have primaries. Not all of these are contested, though. You can check your local county election board website to see a sample ballot for your district.
Lai: One thing to remember is that politicians look at voter turnout and, in the end, they often focus more on their voters than on the general population. So when some communities or neighborhoods vote more than others, that affects their political representation.
How is this primary election different from others you’ve covered in the past?
Terruso: Well for starters, it was rescheduled. Originally Pennsylvanians were going to vote April 28 but then the coronavirus necessitated legislators to push the date back to allow election officials time to prepare. The pandemic has had a tremendous impact on how Pennsylvanians will vote. An unprecedented number of voters have requested mail-in ballots and we’re watching how successful that process is in terms of voters getting ballots in by the deadline. County election officials have also seriously cut down the number of polling locations to protect poll workers and given the expectation more people will vote by mail. That could mean longer lines on Tuesday.
Lai: I’ve never seen this level of anxiety from elections officials and voters because they’re literally worried about questions of life and death. It is an incredible logistical nightmare to run an election during a pandemic while also implementing structural changes such as allowing all voters to vote by mail. When elections draw near, I’m often talking to election officials late in the day, often as they’re driving back from work or afterward. This time, they’re calling me at later and later hours. I talked to people on Memorial Day who were working in their offices, and I’ve talked to election officials calling close to midnight as they get off from work. For voters, so much is different: Voting by mail has been the major shift, but for in-person voting there are major polling place closures in some places, including Philly. There are also new voting machines in some places. It’s a lot, stacked on top of each other.
How much of an impact will Pennsylvania have on the primary and the general election?
Terruso: Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is about 460 delegates short of clinching the nomination. Pennsylvania is one of six states and D.C. voting June 2. Those states have 479 delegates up for grabs so it’s conceivable that Biden — with the help of Pennsylvania voters — could clinch the nomination on our primary day. It’s more likely he’ll fall just short and clinch when more states vote in mid-June.
Pennsylvania’s role in the general election is expected to be huge. The state was one of three to flip from blue to red for Trump in 2016 and most experts say Trump needs to carry Pennsylvania to win reelection. So while the primary may be lower stakes, who turns out and in what numbers will be something we’re looking at with an eye toward November.
Can you safely vote during a pandemic? What if someone wants to vote in person?
Lai: Nothing is 100% risk-free, but yes, there are ways to minimize risk, including voting by mail. The deadline to request a mail ballot has already passed, but there are also ways to reduce risk if you vote in person: Wear a mask and don’t touch your face, keep apart from other people, wash your hands or use sanitizer, and try to familiarize yourself with the ballot and how to use the voting machine ahead of time so you can be in and out quickly.
When can we expect to see the results from the election?
Lai: Not for a while. Results from the polling places will still mostly be available on election night, but mail ballots will take time to count — and in some places, such as Philadelphia, officials won’t start counting the mail ballots until after election night. Since most votes in Philly will likely be cast by mail, that means the results we see on election night will only represent a fraction of the actual vote.
Elections officials actually warned a few months ago that results would take much longer to count than in the past because of the mail ballots; since then, the pandemic has led to a surge in mail voting that no one expected.
That said, this particular election doesn’t have the same level of interest as November’s will, when turnout is much higher. That will make the problem worse because there will be so many more ballots to count — and it will be particularly high-stakes if the world is waiting on Pennsylvania’s result to determine the presidency.
What is one thing you wish people better understood about elections in Pennsylvania?
Lai: How much of the process is done by hand and determined by a generations-old Election Code. The election law changes that allow anyone to vote by mail was the most significant change to election law in decades, but state law remains restrictive in some areas. And even when there are online forms, everything still ultimately is done by hand: Voter registration, mail ballot application processing, counting ballots, preparing poll books, etc. Elections are hugely resource-intensive.
Here’s what it looked like in Philadelphia yesterday as people gathered to mourn the death of George Floyd and protest police brutality.
Celebrations through phone or Zoom can never replace the real thing. And now, with Father’s Day just weeks away, we all want to know, can we visit our parents yet? Once we’re in the yellow phase, the short answer is yes. But before you make plans, there’s a longer answer to consider too. Health experts say it’s still too soon, and if you want to be safe, you may want to wait it out a little longer. There is a possibility that you could be infected, have no symptoms, and pass the virus on to your parents. Without contact tracing, it’s hard to tell who exactly has been exposed.
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“Him setting it free at the end really makes this a feel good story. I’m glad I stuck with it that long. Biggest fish ever, caught in Philly! Take that, other 65 counties!” — tea_i_am on One of Pennsylvania’s largest fish, a probable state record, caught in Philly.