Counties seek election law changes

Wave of mail-in ballots expected to create problems for primary and general election

  • Emily Previti
Happy Monday, Contexters! Today is the 126th anniversary of the first National Bird Day, which was created by an Oil City, Pa., man by the name of Charles A. Babcock. Birdwatching appears to be soaring during the pandemic, signaled by a spike in identification app downloads and sales of related items (birdseed, bird feeders, etc.), the Associated Press reports. Also, an estimated 150,000 flamingoes have descended on Mumbai, according to the Science Times, continuing a trend of animals [re-?]inhabiting typically crowded spaces emptied by stay-at-home orders. —Emily Previti, PA Post reporter
Wearing gloves, a King County Election worker collect ballots from a drop box in the Washington State primary, Tuesday, March 10, 2020, in Seattle. Washington is a vote by mail state.

John Froschauer / AP Photo

Wearing gloves, a King County Election worker collect ballots from a drop box in the Washington State primary, Tuesday, March 10, 2020, in Seattle. Washington is a vote by mail state. (AP Photo)

Kansas set a turnout record for its Democratic presidential primary over the weekend. Despite an uncontested presidential nominating race, voter participation tripled after the state party scrapped in-person voting altogether and mailed ballots (with return postage) to every registered Democrat.

Kansas is only one of two states (Alaska is the other) with an entirely party-run presidential primary this year, according to the Federal Elections Commission.

State officials who will run the general election in Kansas this November are not considering a shift to all-mail at this point, but the state’s election chief made headlines this weekend with his idea to recruit teenagers to help run limited in-person voting this fall.

Saturday’s results were tabulated relatively quickly, partly because the Kansas Democratic Party required ballots to be returned by April 24.

Ohio, meanwhile, is still finalizing its tally from last Tuesday, a contest conducted entirely by mail-ballots to accommodate coronavirus mitigation efforts. The switch was made very last minute, especially when compared to the five vote-by-mail states, each of which transitioned to all-mail over the course of years.

Pennsylvania isn’t doing a mail-only primary; however, voters are being encouraged to request mailed ballots. Many voters here are pursuing that option, as election officials told lawmakers recently that they’re barely keeping up with the deluge of applications.

They also want the authority to process returned ballots ahead of Election Day. During a state Senate State Government Committee hearing last week, several county election directors asked legislators to change state law so they can begin canvassing earlier. You can read my story about that here.

Afterward, I reached out to the lawmakers who run the committee about what they intend to do based on the information shared with them.

The chief of staff to state Sen. John DiSanto (R-Dauphin/Perry) initially told me via email that the election directors hadn’t highlighted any specific statutory changes they would like to see from the legislature, but that dialogue would continue.

When I pointed out that these officials did indeed recommend changes to state law, he replied, “[W]hether there is legislative and key stakeholder consensus on these new suggestions will be determined … in [the] coming days.”

In other election news, the conservative group Judicial Watch is suing the state and several counties over their maintenance of voter registration rolls (read the lawsuit here). A response is due today from the Wolf administration.

Two other lawsuits against the Pa. Department of State are seeking to give voters more time to return ballots to county elections offices. Public Interest Law Center attorneys bringing one of the cases say they aren’t involved in coordinated efforts to pursue similar challenges in other states. But the other case is being pursued by the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans in conjunction with the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA and makes similar arguments to legal challenges being pursued in other states.

Best of the rest

An inspector general's survey of U.S. hospitals finds them scrambling for supplies — even food and toilet paper. They've had to get masks from nontraditional places like autobody shops and nail salons, and also ask for handmade donations.

Mario Tama / Getty Images

An inspector general’s survey of U.S. hospitals finds them scrambling for supplies — even food and toilet paper. They’ve had to get masks from nontraditional places like autobody shops and nail salons, and also ask for handmade donations.  (Getty Images)

  • Pennsylvania is among seven northeastern states forming a purchasing consortium to buy medical equipment such as tests, ventilators and personal protective equipment, Gov. Tom Wolf and his counterparts announced Sunday. They’re looking for U.S.-based suppliers to provide three months’ worth of supplies for the entire group. You can view their joint virtual announcement here.

  • 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley went to Philadelphia to check in with workers sidelined by the coronavirus’s economic fallout. One person he spoke with was Courtney Clifton, whose catering business was completely shut down by the virus-related shutdown. “I had tears in my eyes when I had to tell my right-hand woman, who is also a family member, that her only source of income– I– I– there was nothing that I could do,” she told Pelley. Watch the segment.

  • Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources released its state park reopening plan this weekend. DCNR’s phased approach will start with marinas next week and broaden to encompass counties in the “yellow” zone the following week, though restrictions on group activities will remain, according to PennLive. Across the country, the majority of park and recreation officials are working on similar reopening plans, Route Fifty reports.

  • Pennsylvania schools have relaxed their grading structures as students adjust to remote instruction and other major changes brought on by COVID-19. State education officials have issued pandemic-specific grading guidelines, but ultimately local districts determine the specifics. The result is a patchwork of policies that have major implications for students – high schoolers, in particular, given how grades play into their “post-secondary pathways, availability of scholarships and opportunities for athletics,” writes Andrew Goldstein for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

  • Monday’s Smart Talk: Public schools in Pa. facing billion dollar tax loss, and is telework the new normal? Listen live at 9 a.m. ET.

  • The neo-Nazi group National Socialist Movement wants to rally in Williamsport on July 18, after their event originally scheduled for mid-April was canceled due to the coronavirus, NorthCentralPA.com reports. First-term Mayor Derek Slaughter has been mum on whether he’ll approve the group’s application for a permit. Thousands of people signed a Change.org petition against the first rally.

  • More than 100 people protested Gov. Tom Wolf’s handling of the pandemic Saturday afternoon outside his personal residence in Mt. Wolf, York County. Their criticism focused on Wolf’s orders closing businesses and restricting travel, which are going to begin to relax in 24 most rural counties starting this Friday. “Quarantining the healthy is tyranny,” one demonstrator told The York Daily Record.

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