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Mail-In, Absentee Ballot Applications Surge For June Primary

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The sign outside Rivers Casino on Pittsburgh's North Shore displays a message thanking essential workers. The casino has been shut down for nearly a month now.

Pennsylvania counties have processed about 283,000 absentee and mail-in ballots for the June primary, and requests from Democrats are three times more common than from Republicans, state elections officials said Tuesday.

The Department of State said 89,000 absentee ballot requests have already been processed, with the June 2 primary still seven weeks away.

During the 2016 primary, 84,000 votes were cast under the absentee ballot system, which is available only to those who offer an acceptable reason they would not be able to vote in person.

Counties have already processed 195,000 requests for mail-in ballots under a state law passed last fall that permits them for any voter who requests one.

Pennsylvania has about 4.1 million registered Democrats and 3.3 million Republicans. Of the absentee and mail-in requests for the primary processed so far, about 209,000 are from Democrats and 73,000 from Republicans.

Department of State spokeswoman Wanda Murren said remote voting applications jumped after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf issued orders closing schools and businesses not considered essential to sustaining life.

“First of all, the mail-in option is brand new, and now, with the COVID-19 situation, people want to vote at home, and we’re encouraging that,” Murren said. “We really have no way of knowing what this will end up looking like.”

In a Wisconsin statewide judicial election held last week, preliminary results indicated absentee ballots accounted for about seven in 10 of all ballots cast, compared with 12% during a Wisconsin Supreme Court election last year.

Some of Pennsylvania’s most populous counties have begun asking about conducting the June 2 primary election entirely by mail amid fears the pandemic will pose a threat to poll workers and voters.

In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania:



The Health Department said Tuesday that 60 deaths of people with COVID-19 were reported over the prior day, raising the state’s running total to 584. There were 1,146 new cases of infection, for a statewide total of more than 25,000.

The number of new deaths represents a spike from recent days -- there were just 17 on Monday and 13 on Sunday. The state’s health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, said part of the increase was attributable to a lag time in reporting of deaths over the weekend.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.



Health providers and laboratories are largely failing to abide by a state requirement to provide data on the race and ethnicity of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 patients, according to Levine.

She said the information is missing from over 60% of the coronavirus case reports submitted to the Department of Health, hampering the state’s ability to accurately gauge the pandemic’s impact on Pennsylvania residents.

The agency used its emergency communications network on Tuesday to remind labs and health providers to submit the demographic data.

Nationally, an Associated Press review of nearly 3,300 COVID-19 deaths found that African-Americans accounted for 42% of the toll, twice their share of the population in the areas covered by the analysis.



Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday said liquor sales in six Ohio counties would be restricted to individuals with valid Ohio ID or proof that they work in Ohio for an essential business.

The governor cited the decision of Pennsylvania to close its liquor stores on March 17, followed by the decision earlier this month by several county health boards in northern West Virginia to limit liquor sales to state residents only, out of fears of an influx of out-of-state residents.

Four of the six counties border Pennsylvania; three border West Virginia.

DeWine said those moves then pushed out-of-state people into Ohio. DeWine called his restriction a “work in progress” and said that if additional counties have a significant influx of customers from out of state, he’ll take additional action.