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After dispute, Allegheny County Board of Elections approves ballot drop-off sites

Chet Harhut, deputy manager, of the Allegheny County Division of Elections, wheels a dolly loaded with mail-in ballots, at the division of elections offices in downtown Pittsburgh, May 27, 2020.
Gene J. Puskar
Chet Harhut, deputy manager, of the Allegheny County Division of Elections, wheels a dolly loaded with mail-in ballots, at the division of elections offices in downtown Pittsburgh, May 27, 2020.

After days of controversy, the Allegheny County Board of Elections voted unanimously Wednesday to approve six ballot drop-off locations across the county.

Though County Executive Sara Innamorato’s initial plan to increase voter access called for five drop-off locations, Innamorato and fellow board members Sam DeMarco and Bethany Hallam signed off on an amended proposal that added a sixth drop-off location in McKeesport.

Hallam said the added option is meant to give voters in the Mon Valley a more accessible location to turn in their ballots. The precise location has not yet been decided.

DeMarco, the only Republican on the three-member board, ultimately voted in favor of the resolution — despite the fact that he sued Innamorato over it. DeMarco said he objected not to the drop-off idea itself, but to the process by which Innamorato introduced it: She had initially announced it as an executive decision rather than bringing it before the board for a vote.

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County officials agreed to a settlement on Monday. Both sides acknowledged that a majority of the Board of Elections must vote to approve the ballot return sites. DeMarco agreed to withdraw the lawsuit after the board’s Wednesday vote.

“If we’re providing something that’s open to everyone, that’s demonstrated to be safe and secure … then I don’t have a problem with people being able to utilize this,” he said. DeMarco noted that the locations are not “drop boxes” but rather staffed locations where voters can hand their ballot directly to a county employee.

“The lawsuit served its purpose,” he said after the meeting, noting that thanks to the court filing, he and Hallam received critical information from the Innamorato administration about the security of the locations and the ballot chain of custody.

The lawsuit alleged that Innamorato did not receive approval from the Board of Elections or seek public input before going forward with the plan, in violation of Pennsylvania election law and the state Sunshine Act.

Innamorato maintained that her administration was within its right to announce the drop-off plan without the board’s approval.

“We went in front of our county manager, our director of administrative services, director of elections, our solicitor — folks who have been here for many elections — who advised us that we had the authority to do so,” she told reporters after the vote. “But there’s nothing wrong with having more public voice and eyes on a plan, especially something as sensitive as elections.” She said the Pennsylvania Department of State also approved the plan.

Innamorato said the locations, which will be staffed by elections workers and county police, are a secure way for voters to ensure the county receives their mail-in ballots, calling the sites “an added piece of security.”

“We are prioritizing the security of our elections while also ensuring access,” she said.

A majority of public speakers at the meeting applauded the plan (though some opposed it, noting that voters who don’t want to vote in person can return their ballots via mail). Supporters stressed the importance of expanding access to voting services, particularly for the county’s Jewish community, as the April 23 primary falls on the first day of Passover.

The satellite locations 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.

The locations include:

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

The additional site in McKeesport will be announced in the coming days.

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

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