ALLEGHENY COUNTY (KDKA) — April 28 was supposed to be Election Day in Pennsylvania.
But the coronavirus pandemic has delayed that until June 2.
Now Allegheny County election officials want to drastically reduce the number of polling places open on that date.
That has raised concerns of too few polling places, leading to long lines and overcrowding.
Allegheny County has 1,323 polling places, but a new state law allows the county to reduce that to 600 during the pandemic.
Late last week, the county elections board voted to ask the state for permission to reduce that to 138 locations — one for each municipality and the nine Pittsburgh city council districts.
That brought a strong objection from one member of the elections board.
“This just screams voter disenfranchisement, and that’s my greatest concern here,” County Councilwoman Bethany Hallam, a Democrat, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Monday.
Hallam worries about long lines in large municipalities like Penn Hills, McCandless, and Mt. Lebanon if there is only one voting place per municipality.
“There are some municipalities that have a couple hundred registered voters, while others have tens of thousands of registered voters,” says Hallam. “We have some municipalities that are less than one square mile in total area, and some that are almost 20 square miles in total area.”
But County Councilman Sam DeMarco, a Republican, who along with County Executive Rich Fitzgerald voted for the plan, says most poll workers are elderly and vulnerable to coronavirus.
Without them, that means a drastic reduction in polling places on June 2.
But DeMarco says he still hopes there will be enough poll workers to have more than one polling place in each of the larger municipalities.
“I requested that the Division of Elections immediately reach out and find out who’s going to work and who’s not, so that we can put a plan in place to ensure that we have adequate facilities for people that want to vote in person on Election Day,” said DeMarco.
Since all poll workers will get masks, gloves and other protective gear and spacing will be enforced for all voters, DeMarco hopes as many as 600 polling places could open in the county.
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“We’re taking all the appropriate precautions, so I am hoping more poll workers will be willing to work,” DeMarco said.
So far, over 90,000 voters in Allegheny County have requested mail-in ballots, about one-quarter of the people who voted in Allegheny County’s presidential primary four years ago.
Officials hope that number will double or triple before Election Day, significantly reducing in-person voting.
But in this county and the surrounding counties, exactly how many polling places will be open and where is still up in the air.