Hurricane Sandy hit Pennsylvania just as the state's voters faced deadlines for acquiring and submitting absentee ballots, a situation that could affect thousands of votes in the close presidential election.
Gov. Corbett announced Monday night that he was extending the deadline for voters to request absentee ballots - originally 5 p.m. Tuesday - by up to two days, depending on how many days county offices were forced to close because of the storm.
That will give registered voters in Philadelphia, where offices were to be closed Monday and Tuesday, until Thursday at 5 p.m. to show up in person at county election offices, fill out an absentee ballot request, mark the ballot, and vote on the spot. The new deadline would be Wednesday for government offices closed only one day.
Under the state's new voter ID law, a provision still in effect for this election requires people seeking absentee ballots to provide basic identifying information - either the last four digits of the voter's Social Security number, a state Department of Transportation ID number, or any of the photo IDs outlined in the original voter ID law passed this spring. Counties might require additional information to satisfy themselves of the voter's identity.
It will be too late to use that extended deadline to send an absentee ballot through the mail, because Corbett said he was not extending the Friday deadline for completed absentee ballots to arrive at county election offices.
Any use of the mail could be problematic because the storm has curtailed mail service in Philadelphia and the suburbs. Further cutbacks are likely throughout the state, depending on the course of the storm the remainder of the week.
The number of absentee ballots returned by Pennsylvania voters has lagged behind the number cast four years ago. The balance between Democratic voters and Republicans has tilted in favor of the GOP, according to an analysis distributed Monday by the Republican National Committee's Pennsylvania director, Billy Pitman.
Four years ago, Democrats and Republicans filed 270,020 absentee ballots between them, with Republicans casting 5,680 more than the Democrats, Pitman said. Through last Thursday, the numbers this year totaled 105,730 between both parties, and Republicans had submitted 21,700 more than Democrats, he said.
Philadelphia's top election official, City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, said she supported extending the deadline for both requesting and submitting the absentee ballots. "Sandy has shut the city government down for today [Monday], and it's going to be shut down tomorrow as well," she said. "I've got no idea what effect it's had on the post office. . . . It would be good if everyone had a little more leeway."
Cathy Yarofsky, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service in Philadelphia and the suburbs, said the agency had shut down deliveries as of noon Monday and would reevaluate the situation Tuesday depending on the weather. Ray Daiutolo, another spokesman whose territory includes New Jersey, Delaware and the rest of eastern Pennsylvania, said Pennsylvania service had been close to normal on Monday but could change the rest of the week as the storm marched inland.
Singer said her office had discovered another problem with postal deliveries to Room 142 in City Hall, where absentee ballot requests and ballots themselves are supposed to be addressed. A glitch in one of the postal system's automated sorting devices was not recognizing City Hall as an appropriate address and was returning some mail to an unknown number of voters, saying the address was "unknown," Singer said.
Yarofsky said the Postal Service learned of the problem just last week and was working to fix it as quickly as possible.