Measure To Delay Pennsylvania's Primary Heads To Final Votes

Mar 25, 2020

A measure to delay Pennsylvania's primary election by five weeks, potentially past the spike of the state's spreading coronavirus cases, could fly through both chambers of the state Legislature to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk on Wednesday.

Wolf, a Democrat, will sign it, his office said.

The measure also has high-level support from top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature and won a unanimous preliminary vote in the House on Tuesday.

Under the bill, Pennsylvania would hold its primary election on June 2, instead of April 28, when the state could be in the thick of a surge of coronavirus cases.

Wolf's administration has steadfastly refused to publicly discuss projections for when it believes the surge of cases will peak, however. But training and recruiting poll workers in the thick of the coronavirus crisis could prove impossible, lawmakers say.

In addition to delaying the primary date, the legislation would give county election offices a head start on processing and tabulating mail-in ballots, newly allowed under a five-month-old election law.

Letting election workers start at 7 a.m. on election days, instead of after polls close, is designed to help them avoid a massive backup that county officials have warned could extend vote counting in the presidential race for days afterward.

It also would require that challenges to those ballots be filed by the Friday before election days to lighten the post-election load of processing and counting mail-in and absentee ballots.

Separately, the legislation would let counties consolidate polling places, in part because some are currently located within nursing homes that could be susceptible to outbreaks of coronavirus. Many poll workers are older people who are particularly at risk from COVID-19, lawmakers say.

Primary voters will pick candidates in contested races for president, Congress and the Legislature.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.