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Allegheny County to add ballot drop off locations ahead of April primary

Election workers process mail-in ballots.
Matt Rourke
In this May 28, 2020 file photo, mail-in primary election ballots are processed at the Chester County voter services office in West Chester, Pa.

Allegheny County leaders are expanding options for voters who want to use a mail-in ballot in this year’s primary elections. The county Elections Division will operate five staffed ballot drop-off locations in the two weekends prior to the April primary election.

Voters can take their completed absentee or mail-in ballots to any of the new locations, or to the County Office Building downtown.

“Expanding access to voting, while maintaining the safety and security of our elections, is critically important to my administration and for protecting our democracy,” County Executive Sara Innamorato said in a statement.

The satellite locations are spread throughout the county and will be open the two weekends before Election Day: Saturday, April 13 and April 20, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; and Sunday, April 14 and April 21, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Voters must return their own ballot, or complete an authorization form to turn in a ballot for someone who is physically unable to do so.

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The proposal is a reboot of an approach used by the county during the 2020 election, when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted typical voting procedures. But then-county executive Rich Fitzgerald scrapped that plan for future elections, saying it wasn’t cost-effective and that mail-in ballots provided sufficient convenience without the cost to the county.

But on Thursday, Allegheny County Council and Board of Elections member Sam DeMarco criticized the return of what he referred to as “ballot drop off boxes” — though the phrase typically refers to boxes that are not attended by staff. Innamorato’s plan calls for staffed locations only.

Republicans have complained about unstaffed drop-boxes in other areas (though the boxes are generally under camera surveillance or otherwise secured). DeMarco added that neither council nor the elections board received advance notice of Innamorato’s plan, which he described as a “power grab” that “fails to account for security.”

“Sara Innamorato’s arbitrary decision to expand ballot drop boxes to remote locations without consulting with or even alerting other members of the Elections Board will only serve to decrease confidence that Allegheny County’s elections procedures are free from partisan taint,” he said in a statement.

According to Innamorato spokesperson Abigail Gardner, security will be provided at each satellite location.

“Voters will only be able to turn in ballots to an elections division staffer during the hours that [the] locations are open,” she said. “Security is of paramount importance, and this addition of drop off locations was signed off on by the Department of State.”

Fellow County Council and election board member Bethany Hallam, a Democrat, has advocated for expanded access to satellite locations during all elections, and said she is excited about the move.

“We saw how much of an asset it was to the community to have new and exciting ways to participate in the electoral process,” she said.

However, Hallam was concerned that the Board of Elections was not included in the decision.

“I believe that it is very much under the purview of the Board of Elections to make these kinds of decisions,” she said. “I would really like to see an immediate Board of Elections meeting to discuss the logistics, to discuss where the funding for these is coming from, and to discuss plans to make sure not just that the sites are run as effectively as possible but also that we are able to develop plans for these to be used in future elections, instead of treating presidential election years any differently than any other.”

The county executive is the chair of the three-member Board of Elections and has the power to call meetings. Gardner said that because the satellite locations will not offer complete voting services, like early voting, the administration believes it isn’t necessary to involve the board.

The administration has not yet decided if the satellite sites will be available for the November election.

“We’ll see what the response is from voters and if these are well used as we assess our approach to the general election,” Gardner said in an email. “We are trying to balance several considerations including cost, security, if the public finds this service useful, and making sure anything we do would stand up to any questions or legal challenges that arise.”

The satellite locations will be housed at:

Carnegie Public Library of Squirrel Hill
5801 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15217

South Park Ice Rink
30 Corrigan Drive
Bethel Park, PA 15102

North Park Ice Rink
1200 Pearce Mill Road
Wexford, PA 15090

Boyce Park Four Seasons Lodge
901 Centerview Drive
Plum, PA 15239

9-1-1 Call Center
150 Hookstown Grade Road
Moon, PA 15108

April 8 is the deadline to register to vote. The deadline to apply for an absentee or mail-in ballot for the primary election is April 16. Ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Primary Day, April 23.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at