Pennsylvania has a new system in place to provide a more accessible vote-by-mail option for voters with visual disabilities. But according to the Pennsylvania Department of State [DOS], only 50 voters with disabilities had requested the use of OmniBallot as of Oct. 27.
On election night in 2016, voters across the country stayed up into the early morning hours awaiting the presidential election results. The race was a nail-biter, but at 2:30 a.m. — six and a half hours after polls in Pennsylvania closed — the Associated Press called the election for Donald Trump. The timing of election night on Nov. 3 will likely be very different. With more than 2.8 million Pennsylvanians requesting mail-in ballots as of Oct.
Between the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing protests over the death of George Floyd, a brand new statewide mail-in voting system and a last-minute deadline extension, the Pennsylvania primary election on June 2 faced unprecedented challenges. Some voters felt confident with their experience voting by mail, while others worried if their vote would be counted. For some in-person voters, the process didn't differ much from normal; others were frustrated over changes in polling locations and worried about a lack of social distancing. Anrica Caldwell of Penn Hills called mail-in voting “easy, safe and a convenient way to continue to exercise your right to vote.”
Ethan Boyle of the Strip District also said he voted by mail without any issues. “I think the process went smoothly,” he said.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday evening, the night before the primary election, that he is extending the vote-by-mail deadline by a week for six counties, including Allegheny County. The new deadline for ballots to be received in those counties is 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 9, per an executive order. But ballots must still be postmarked by Tuesday, June 2, according to the press release. “I can’t do anything about the election day, but I am extending the time to actually get votes in,” he said. “So if you vote, and your vote gets in by next Tuesday… it’ll count.”
The previous deadline to receive mail-in ballots was 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 2.The announcement came as a surprise to many, including local officials: Allegheny County spokesperson Amie Downs was not aware of the extension when PublicSource contacted her Monday evening to confirm.
In recent days, some Allegheny County voters have experienced a perplexing problem: their completed mail-in ballots have been returned back to their homes by the postal service instead of being delivered to the county elections division. One voter, Jane Downing, said she dropped off her ballot in a public mailbox in East Liberty last week. Several days later, it was delivered back to her. “I thought, ‘This isn’t right. There’s something wrong with this,’” she said.
The county recently signed a $20 million deal for a new voting system that largely relies on hand-marked paper ballots to comply with a Pennsylvania lawsuit settlement requiring a paper trail ahead of the primary election.