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Massive Polling Place Consolidation Announced For the June 2 Primary

May 13, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: David Thornburgh, President and CEO
Committee of Seventy
dthornburgh@seventy.org
215-439-0879 c

MASSIVE POLLING PLACE CONSOLIDATIONS ANNOUNCED FOR JUNE 2 PRIMARY
Seventy urges voters to vote by mail, advises those going to the polls to expect long lines

PENNSYLVANIA – Counties across Pennsylvania have announced plans for the June 2 primary election that involve hundreds of consolidated election precincts. The state's two most populous counties, Philadelphia and Allegheny, alone are shifting from the more than 2,100 polling places they open in a typical election to fewer than 500 -- 3 in 4 regular locations in these jurisdictions will not be open on June 2. The deadline for counties to approve plans is today, with public notice required by Monday, May 18.

The authority for county election officials to execute such substantial consolidation comes from Act 12 of 2020, passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Wolf on March 27. This legislation moved the primary election from April 28 to June 2 due the COVID-19 pandemic, but also included a number of emergency provisions regarding poll worker assignment and polling place changes. Much of the consolidation is being driven by regularly elected or appointed workers, many of whom are seniors, being unavailable to serve due the health risks and fewer available polling locations.

“The 2020 primary will represent a tectonic shift in how Pennsylvanians vote,” remarked David Thornburgh, President and CEO of the Committee of Seventy. “Unprecedented numbers of voters will vote by mail. Voters who vote in person will experience longer lines. All of us will be concerned about the health risks. Before June 2, we’ve all got to take responsibility for learning how to vote, and encouraging our friends and neighbors to learn as well. Through our WeVote awareness campaign, we’re doing everything we can to encourage voters to vote by mail, and understand where and how they can vote safely and securely if they choose to vote in person on June 2nd. ”

Election officials across the state have been vocal about their concerns since the onset of the health crisis, and are dealing with this emergency while also implementing historic election reforms passed last year (Act 77 of 2019) and new voting systems -- and all during a high-volume presidential election year. Fortunately, Act 77 created a new mail-in ballot option that is now available to any registered voter, a significant step that brings Pennsylvania closer to the states in the vanguard of election administration. The new voting systems, meanwhile, were mandated by the Pennsylvania Department of State in April 2018 to ensure that voters can confirm their selections, election results can be audited, and, if needed, proper recounts can be conducted.

As of May 13, more than 112,00 Philadelphia voters had requested mail-in ballots. Recent analyses of mail-in ballot applications in the city by the Sixty Six Wards blog show substantial and troubling differences in the demographic of those choosing the vote-by-mail option, with white voters under 40 far outpacing other groups. Super voters in the city are also more than twice as likely to have applied. 

“We’ve got to expect that the June 2 primary will run as smoothly as possible, but we know that there will be problems. We’re pressure testing the system like never before, ” warned Thornburgh. “But whatever happens in the June 2 primary, it’s imperative that those running our elections, and all of us who lead our communities, learn everything we can from this primary election experience. We need things to go well for the November 3rd general election, when voter turnout -- and the stakes -- will be much higher.”

Seventy is calling on every civic, community, religious and business organization in the region and across the commonwealth to use every means available to prepare their constituents for the June 2 primary election. Eligible voters must know:

  • The voter registration deadline is Monday, May 18. Voters are encouraged to apply online.

  • Consolidated polling place lists must be final and public by May 18. Locations should be posted to VotesPA.com and to county election websites.

  • The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is Tuesday, May 26. Any registered Pennsylvanian voter can vote by mail, but applications must be returned to the county election office by 5 pm on May 26.

  • Absentee and mail-in ballots are due to county election officials by 8 pm on Election Day. Postmarks do not matter. **This deadline is currently being litigated and could change.**

To learn how to register and vote, go to: votespa.com/readytovote

In addition to these critical voting procedures, Seventy has prepared the following resources for all Pennsylvania voters:

  • WeVote, a new civic awareness campaign launched this month, has everything a Pennsylvanian needs to be an informed citizen, including the five research-based Habits of Highly Effective Citizens.

  • The BYOBallot, an online platform that allows you to put in your address and receive your customized ballot and if you’d like, share with others.

  • Voter Experience Survey designed to identify issues voters encounter when voting in-person or via mail-in ballot.

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The Committee of Seventy is an independent nonprofit advocate for better politics and better government in Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For more information, see www.seventy.org.