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Trump, Biden Win Pennsylvania Primary Amid Unrest, Pandemic

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania held a primary election Tuesday amid civil unrest, a pandemic, the introduction of new voting machines in some counties and the debut of mail-in balloting that pushed county election bureaus to their limits.

The result of the highest-profile contest on the ballot was a foregone conclusion: President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, uncontested for their party’s nominations, both won their primary Tuesday in Pennsylvania.

The lack of drama in the outcome of the presidential primary and the huge number of voters who opted to vote by mail meant turnout was light.

Still, voters in some places were dealing with late-arriving mail-in ballots and a dramatic consolidation of polling places in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Montgomery County to cope with the difficulty of recruiting poll workers fearful of the coronavirus.

Ultimately, more than 1.8 million voters applied for a mail-in or absentee ballot, smashing expectations by state officials for the debut of the state’s new vote-by-mail law and drawing warnings that many contest results will be delayed well past election night.

Officials in Philadelphia and its suburbs, in particular, had been concerned that voters wouldn't receive their ballots in time for the post office to return them by Tuesday's 8 p.m. deadline.

Two heavily populated suburban Philadelphia counties on Tuesday won court decisions extending the counting of mail-in ballots, a day after Gov. Tom Wolf issueda similar order for Philadelphia and five counties with protests over George Floyd’s death raging.

In Bucks County, home to 461,000 registered voters, a judge ruled that the county can count any ballots that arrive by June 9, as long as they are postmarked by June 1. In Delaware County, home to 405,000 voters, a judge gave the county an extra 10 days to count the ballots of about 400 voters whose ballots had not even been mailed to them before Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, lines were long at consolidated polling locations, made temporarily worse in some places by broken voting machines and delivery mix-ups of voting machines at other polling places, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Despite the challenges, the Department of State said Tuesday night that the election had gone smoothly.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m., with social distancing rules in place at the still-open locations.

There was only one competitive primary among the statewide races: a six-way race in the Democratic primary for auditor general. Candidates in the other two other statewide races on the ballot, attorney general and treasurer, were uncontested.

All 18 of the state’s members of the U.S. House of Representatives are seeking reelection, although only two have primary opposition. In the Legislature, all 203 House seats and half the 50-member Senate are up this year.

Primary voters will also pick delegates and alternates for the two major parties’ presidential nominating conventions.

Lawmakers voted to postpone the primary election from April 28 to avoid the height of Pennsylvania’s spike in coronavirus cases, and candidates and political parties have urged voters to cast ballots by mail.

Wolf’s order to extend the deadline for counting mail-in ballots is limited to Philadelphia, Allegheny, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie and Montgomery counties, where his emergency declaration over the protests was active as of Monday.

Republican Party officials criticized Wolf’s order as usurping lawmakers' authority and violating constitutional protections that ensure equal voting laws, but had not challenged it in court as of Tuesday evening. In 2012, then-Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, used the authority, allowing counties that had to close their election offices in the days before the election because of Superstorm Sandy to extend the deadline to accept absentee ballots.

Voters who do not receive their ballot in the mail can vote provisionally at their polling location. In addition, some counties were providing ballot drop-off locations.

Meanwhile Tuesday, 22 counties were road-testing new paper-based voting machines, ordered by Wolf in 2018 as a bulwark against election meddling after the federal authorities said Russian hackers had targeted election systems in Pennsylvania and other states in the 2016 election.