Tuesday’s June 2 primary election is a first run of a new election infrastructure in Pennsylvania -- at both the best and worst time for it. Last year, Pennsylvania passed a law allowing anyone to request a mailed ballot. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, county election officials expressed concerns that they didn’t have the capacity to process a large increase in mail-in ballots and that election results could take days, or weeks, after election day to confirm.
Whatever increase in mailed ballots election officials feared they’d have to process, it’s unlikely that it came close to the actual surge in mail voting that the coronavirus induced. More voters in Philadelphia requested a mail-in ballot this year than did voters in all of Pennsylvania in 2016. Glitches are already surfacing throughout the state, from ballots with wrong instructions to ballots that will arrive at voters’ homes too late to be mailed in on time to be counted.
A surge in vote-by-mail is only one side of the headache that election officials have this year. They also had to coordinate distribution of personal protective equipment to polling stations, and come up with protocols to ensure safe voting amid the coronavirus.
And this is all just the prologue to the general election, when the presidency is on the ballot.
To help facilitate vote-by-mail in a high-turnout election, Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed budget before the coronavirus struck included an 84% increase in funding to the Office of City Commissioners. That disappeared in the mayor’s revised budget, which attempts to close the funding hole the pandemic created. The commissioners warned during their budget hearing in City Council that they won’t be able to manage the November election without an increase.
This pandemic has brought back focus on fundamentals: public health, livelihood, and democracy. Voting is essential. The city commissioners, unfortunately, have suffered credibility hits, with ethical concerns raised around the procurement of new -- and expensive -- voting machines. Investing in our democracy is critical, but Philadelphians also deserve their tax dollars to be handled responsibly. Transparency in spending ahead of November will be key. That starts with a rapid effort to evaluate what needs to be debugged after the primary. We get only one run before November’s critically important election.
The safest way to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic is by mail. While everyone can vote by mail in Pennsylvania, it requires adhering to deadlines. The first deadline, to request a ballot, passed last week. Voters must make sure the filled ballot arrives at the county’s election office by 8 p.m. on election day. A postmark doesn’t count. For Philadelphians, the safest way to make sure that your mail-in ballot is counted is by taking it to the drop-off box outside City Hall or to one of the 10 mobile boxes that will be set up throughout the city on election day. Find their location via https://www.philadelphiavotes.com.
Philadelphia will have 77% fewer polling stations this year due to the coronavirus. Those intending to vote in person should check where their new polling station is before going out to vote. The city will hand out masks to voters without them, but it is also on voters to adhere to social distancing rules and poll workers’ instructions to keep everyone safe. Find your new polling location via PollingPlaces.PhiladelphiaVotes.com.
The coronavirus pandemic influenced every aspect of life, including the editorial board’s capacity to endorse. We targeted two competitive state Senate race in which incumbents face their first challenger.
The editorial board also reviewed the charter amendments that will appear on Philadelphia ballots. The board recommends that voters vote yes both on forming a permanent Department of Labor and on allowing city employees to volunteer on state and federal campaigns in their free time.