Pennsylvania’s primary election has been rescheduled for June 2nd. While postponing the primary may give county boards of elections more time to plan, it will not solve the looming problems of coordinating in-person voting during the current public health crisis. Voter turnout is likely to plummet given current recommendations for social distancing. The number of poll workers willing to work in elections is predicted to decline. Consequently, county boards of elections will have to consolidate polling places, adding yet another element of confusion as voters try to locate new polling places.
Decreased voter participation always damages the fabric of democracy. At this moment of crisis, we need to work hard and creatively to enable as many voters as possible to participate in this year’s primary and general elections.
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Under Act 77, which was passed last year, any Pennsylvania registered voter can request a mail-in ballot without providing a reason (such as illness or absence). However, relatively few people are aware of the change, and this lack of information creates a substantial barrier to using this mail-in option.
That is why I and 67 other Democratic Committeepeople in Philadelphia signed a petition pledging to educate voters regarding mail-in ballots and calling on the PA state legislature to help Pennsylvanians exercise their right to vote from home.
The Pennsylvania state government should send each registered voter an application for a mail-in-ballot with postage prepaid. The state legislature should also appropriate the funds necessary for county boards of elections to educate voters regarding the mail-in option and to process the resulting increase in mail-in ballots. While this initiative would not supplant an in-person primary, it would preserve voter participation for many voters who are concerned in-person voting would pose a potential health risk. Furthermore, this initiative would enable Pennsylvania to be better positioned to run a mail-in election in November, should that be necessary.
Faced with the prospect that many would-be voters might stay home on Election Day out of concern for their health, it is imperative that we find solutions to ensure as many people as possible are able to participate in the electoral process. Let’s work together to help Pennsylvanians exercise their right to vote. Don’t let democracy be one of the victims of COVID-19.