HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Amid protests over George Floyd’s death across Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday that he is ordering Philadelphia and five other counties to keep counting ballots in the primary election that arrive by mail for up to seven days after Tuesday’s 8 p.m. deadline.
Wolf made the announcement during a brief appearance in Philadelphia, as the state prepared for a primary election like none other in its history Tuesday. The governor’s office said that Wolf’s order will be limited to Philadelphia and Allegheny, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie and Montgomery counties.
Ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday’s 8 p.m. deadline. The new deadline to receive them and count them, under Wolf’s executive order, would be 8 p.m. on June 9.
Already, counties are struggling with an unexpected flood of mail-in ballots and the difficulty of maintaining polling places amid the pandemic. Meanwhile, many are rolling out new voting machines ordered by Wolf as a bulwark against election meddling.
“Voting by mail, the counting will continue for seven days after tomorrow,” Wolf said. “I can’t do anything about the election day, but I am extending the time to actually get votes in.”
Courts until now had rejected efforts by various parties to extend the deadline, and a case was still pending Monday concerning Bucks County.
Charlie O’Neill, a state Republican Party spokesperson, said the party’s lawyers were considering Wolf’s announcement.
More than 1.8 million voters applied for a mail-in or absentee ballot, smashing expectations by state officials. But some officials have said they worried that voters wouldn’t receive their ballot in time to return it by the 8 p.m. election day deadline.
Voters who do not receive their ballot in the mail can vote provisionally at their polling location.
The unexpected volume of mail-in ballot requests has proven to be a challenge for county elections officials, and they are warning that election results are likely to be delayed well past election night.
The election was postponed from April 28 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, Pennsylvania voters have returned about 1.1 million ballots by mail of the 1.8 million requested.
Polling places in some counties have been moved or consolidated to cope with a pandemic-driven drop in election volunteers, and special social distancing rules will be in place at the still-open locations.
Twenty-two counties, or about one-third, will use new voting systems for the first time, while this election marks the debut of no-excuse mail-in ballots under a law approved by Gov. Tom Wolf and lawmakers last fall.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.
David Voye, elections division manager for Allegheny County, released a statement, saying:
“Earlier today, Governor Wolf issued an executive order allowing for mail-in and absentee ballots that are postmarked on or before June 2 and arrive by June 9 to be counted for the primary election.
“This order does not change our process for tomorrow’s Election Day. All ballots received in the Elections Division office by 8 p.m. will be included in tomorrow’s count. As indicated previously, the intent is to remain and continue until all of those ballots are counted.
“After Election Day, we’ll begin to gather the mail received in the office that meets the governor’s order and will determine when and how those ballots will be counted. We will announce the process later this week, but intend to follow all Election Code provisions, including allowing observers to view the process.”
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