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Amid coronavirus outbreak, Pa. considers ‘options’ for April 28 primary

Patriot-News - 3/13/2020

As the coronavirus spreads and health officials urge people to avoid crowds, Pennsylvania officials say they are examining options for the April 28 primary election.

Pennsylvania officials haven’t said if those options include postponing its primary, as Louisiana has done.

Louisiana’s primary, originally slated for April 4, has been delayed until June 20 due to the concerns over the coronavirus. Louisiana became the first state to delay its primary due to the pandemic.

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Pennsylvania’s Department of State, which oversees elections, issued a statement Friday saying that discussions about the primary are occurring. But the agency didn’t spell out any possible alternatives.

“The Department of State is having comprehensive discussions about a range of potential options for the April primary election,” the agency said in a statement. “Those discussions are being held in consultation with the Department of Health, the governor’s office, the legislature and the counties.”

The agency statement continued: “Our focus is on best ways to protect the integrity of the election while safeguarding public health. We will immediately notify the public if there are to be any changes in primary or special-election voting.”

The Pennsylvania primary is headlined by the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, as Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are vying for the chance to battle President Donald Trump in the fall. The primary also features contests for statewide offices and congressional and state legislative races.

The state is encouraging voters to cast their ballots by mail. With an election reform law approved by Gov. Tom Wolf and legislators last year, all registered voters can cast ballots in the mail. Until this year, voters who wanted to vote via mail had to request an absentee ballot and give a reason why they couldn’t get to the polls, such as military service or illness.

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State Rep. Kevin Boyle, a Philadelphia Democrat, said he’s introducing legislation to provide state funding so all voters can vote by mail.

“Pennsylvania must be realistic regarding the impact of Coronavirus on the upcoming April 28th election, and the November elections beyond," Boyle said in a statement. “We don’t know what the future holds, or whether in-person voting will be safe or viable. Seniors are especially at risk with this pandemic – and make up a large portion of both our poll workers and voters.”

So far, more than 22,000 voters have signed up to cast their ballot by the mail. In addition, more than 40,000 have signed up for an absentee ballot.

Voters can apply for a mail-in ballot online on the Department of State’s website. They can download the application and mail it to their county election office. Residents can also apply for the ballot and vote in person at their county elections office during business hours.

The election reform law also provides more time to register to vote. Previously, those wishing to vote had to register 30 days before the election. Now, voters can register up to 15 days before the election. Those wishing to vote in the primary must register by April 13.

For more information on voting, visit the Department of State’s website: .

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