Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced today that the county election division is finalizing mailings, and will send no-excuse mail-in ballot applications to every registered voter in the county who has not already applied for a mail-in or absentee ballot. The mailings will include prepaid postage.
On April 13, Fitzgerald called for an expansion of Pennsylvania's emergency declaration to allow Allegheny County to mail a ballot to all registered voters, but Republicans in the state legislature rejected that request. So Fitzgerald said he would move forward with what he could do, which is send ballot applications.
"Without that authority, we’re moving forward with our plans to mail the mail-in ballot applications," said Fitzgerald in a press release.
Allegheny County has 1,323 polling places which require more than 6,600 poll workers to run those sites. Most of the workers are elderly, and many of them have been cancelling or expressing concerns about their health given coronavirus, according to a press release.
As such, Fitzgerald said getting as many people as possible to vote by mail is the safest way to conduct June 2 primary election.
“We hope that voters will continue to seek mail-in ballots as it is the safest option for them, and for all of our residents, during this pandemic,” said Fitzgerald.
Original story posted on April 16:
Given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, gatherings of just about any kind have been prohibited and discouraged as much as humanly possible. With that in mind, and a primary election upcoming, Allegheny County Council could be taking action shortly to encourage voters to avoid the in-person polls, and vote by mail instead.
Allegheny County Councilor Bethany Hallam (D-Ross) drafted an ordinance that will be introduced tomorrow that would require Allegheny County election officials to send mail-in ballot applications to every registered voter in the county who has not already applied for a mail-in ballot.
Last year, Pennsylvanian reformed its election laws to allow all registered voters to vote by mail without an excuse.
Hallam’s legislation would require that the county send mail-in ballot applications to registered voters by May 8 at the latest. The deadline to fill out a mail-in ballot application is May 26. The ordinance would also require the mail-in ballot applications sent out by county officials to include prepaid postage.
Hallam says Allegheny County residents should not have to endanger their health or well-being in order to exercise their right to vote.
“Even during normal times, people face lots of obstacles to voting, such as non-traditional work schedules, childcare needs, and a lack of access to transportation,” said Hallam in a statement. “This legislation not only ensures every registered voter in Allegheny County will be sent a mail-in ballot application, but also that they will be provided prepaid postage for the return of both the ballot application and the ballot itself.”
Allegheny County would incur the cost of sending out mail-in ballot applications, but the ordinance does not state how much that would be.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is supportive of the ordinance. His spokesperson Amie Downs says he’s glad to see county council backing his mail-in voting efforts.
On April 13, Fitzgerald called for an expansion of Pennsylvania's emergency declaration to allow Allegheny County to mail a ballot to all registered voters. His hope is that the Pennsylvania primary election on June 2 will be conducted all by mail-in ballot, as a way to ensure safety during the pandemic.
Downs says that Fitzgerald already started directing the election office to begin finalizing mail-in ballot applications a few weeks ago, and the office is currently finalizing mailings that include self-addressed envelopes to be sent to registered voters who haven’t already applied for ballots. She also mentioned the county’s efforts at marketing the state’s new no-excuse mail-in ballot rules. The county Board of Elections has been informed of all these efforts.
“We hope that voters will continue to seek mail-in ballots as it is the safest option for them during this pandemic,” said Downs in a statement.
No co-sponsors have been listed yet for the ordinance, but support from Fitzgerald, a Democrat, brings considerable sway. Not only is the current make-up of the council 12 Democrats to three Republicans, but Fitzgerald has seen about 92% of the bills he has supported pass, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Hallam’s ordinance would not send a ballot to every voter, just a ballot application. Voters would still have to fill out the application, and be approved by the county, before county election officials would then send voters the ballot. (City Paper wrote a guide on how to apply for a mail-in ballot earlier this month.)
According to the ordinance, Allegheny County had 56,335 total mail-in and absentee ballot application submitted through April 13, which reflects only about 16% of the number of ballots cast in the 2016 presidential primary. Though just a fraction of typical ballots during a presidential year, Downs says these figures still lead all Pennsylvania counties in number of applications.
Hallam says she hopes this ordinance will encourage future efforts in all elections, even those not taking place during a pandemic, to include robust mail-in ballot plans from county election offices.
“Not just during this time of a global pandemic, but during all times, it is so important to protect our most vulnerable populations in every way possible,” says Hallam.