By Cassie Miller
For the Pittsburgh Current
With Pennsylvania’s primary election just four weeks away, state officials asked voters to register to vote and apply online for mail-in ballots as soon as possible.
“This primary election is the first chance Pennsylvanians have to take advantage of mail-in voting,” Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday in a virtual press briefing.
So far, nearly 1 million Pennsylvanians have applied for mail-in and absentee ballots, Wolf confirmed.
Pennsylvanians have until May 18 to register to vote in Pennsylvania’s June 2 primary. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot for the primary is May 26 by 5 p.m.
“I strongly encourage Pennsylvanians wanting to vote by mail to apply today,” Wolf said. “I want to emphasize how important it is for voters to have their voice heard, even in a pandemic.”
Wolf said that giving the Department of State, which oversees elections across Pennsylvania, enough time to process requests for ballots, is “a great way to help workers.”
When asked if voters who choose to voter in-person would be required to wear masks, Wolf hesitated to say that it would be required, but urged Pennsylvanians 12.8 million residents to think of their fellow Pennsylvanians and choose to wear a mask because “it’s the right thing to do.”
Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, who also joined Wolf at the briefing, said officials knew the 2020 election would be “historic,” given the new measures passed in Act 77 last fall that allowed for no-excuse mail-in voting and eliminated straight-ticket voting, but not for changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the time, Boockvar said, “we did not know how important those measures would be.”
Boockvar took time to address election questions regarding the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown during Monday’s briefing.
For voters who already applied for a mail-in ballot during the primary’s original April 28 date, Boockvar said they do not need to re-apply.
Boockvar also clarified the state’s stance on voter ID requirements, saying that ID is not required if the polling place is moved due to COVID closings, it is only required when the voter changes precincts
Boockvar said that regardless of what phase a county or region is in during the primary, voters can leave their home to vote.
“You should feel free to go ahead and exercise your right to vote,” Boockvar said, encouraging voters to heed social distancing efforts.
Boockvar said that state officials have taken “multiple steps” to help county election offices, including providing extra funds.
Wolf expressed concern over overwhelming the county election offices to process the high demand of mail-in ballot requests.
“We all had that concern well before the pandemic,” Wolf said.
To address those concerns, Boockvar said the state department has sub-granted $13 million directly to counties to improve safety, security and administration ahead of the June 2 primary.
Funding from the federal government is being used to provide polling places with tape, masks and hand sanitizer, Boockvar said.
Boockvar said Pennsylvania has joined other states in calling for more federal funding ahead of the November general election.
Due to COVID-19, some polling places have changed. Both Boockvar and Wolf urged voters to check for changes to the location of their polling place before the election.
Boockvar added that even businesses that are closed under Wolf’s order to close all non-essential businesses can open to serve as polling places, with approval from state officials.
Boockvar called on those businesses to volunteer their locations.
“Help serve democracy,” she said.
Pennsylvanians can visit votespa.com or call 1-877-VOTESPA for more information.
Cassie Miller is the Associate Editor of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star where this story first appeared