HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania saw another big increase in confirmed coronavirus cases Sunday, as well as another death, as lawmakers speed legislation to delay the state’s April 28 primary election and relax rules around how mail-in ballots can be processed in advance of polls closing.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia is issuing a stay-at-home order that begins Monday, after Gov. Tom Wolf has already asked residents to stay home, if they can help it, and ordered non-life-sustaining businesses to close.
Amid lobbying to relax the order, Wolf’s administration softened its broad ban on construction to allow emergency work.
Legislation is being drafted to delay Pennsylvania’s primary from April 28 to June 2, and could make it through the Republican-controlled Legislature and get to Wolf’s desk by the end of the week.
A first vote was expected Monday in the House State Government Committee. House State Government Committee Chairman Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, said support for it is bipartisan, with overwhelming backing from counties and county election directors.
“We want to get ahead of the game, rather than the Ohio example, where we pull the trigger at the last minute and scramble around,” Everett said. “We want to do it in organized fashion.”
Rep. Kevin Boyle, the committee’s ranking Democrat from Philadelphia, said he expects that Democratic support for the measure is near-universal and believes Wolf supports it, too.
Wolf, a Democrat, has said he is working with lawmakers on it, but his office would not say Sunday what sort of changes he will support.
Top Republicans support it, House and Senate GOP officials said Sunday.
With the virus spreading and Wolf asking residents to stay in their homes, election directors don’t see how they can get ballots printed and poll workers hired and trained to conduct a primary on April 28, Everett said.
Pennsylvania’s five-month-old mail-in ballot law lets any voter cast a ballot by mail. But Everett said usage of mail-in ballots will far exceed earlier projections of 20% because of the coronavirus.
To help county election directors process the crush of mail-in ballots, Everett said he wants the legislation to allow them to process the ballots in advance, to verify that the ballot is valid, and then start counting them at 8 a.m. on Election Day.
Boyle said he supports mailing a ballot to each registered voter, and that more steps may be necessary to help people vote by mail if it becomes clear that allowing an in-person vote on June 2 is a threat to public safety.
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