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County election offices prepare for wave of no excuse mail-in ballots for April Primary

Election officials also anticipate coronavirus fears will drive up number of mail-in ballots submitted

HARRISBURG, Pa. — County elections offices have some concerns about new voting reform laws and the impact coronavirus will have on the April 28th primary. This primary, anyone can vote by no excuse mail-in ballots but, between that new law and fears surrounding coronavirus, county election offices are preparing for what could be a very high number of mail-in ballots this year. 

“Act 77 has brought about a lot of good changes," said Michael Anderson, Lebanon County Bureau of Elections Director. "I think it’s going to be easier for people to vote.” 

Act 77 signed by Governor Tom Wolf in 2019 will allow people to vote by mail without providing an excuse. County election offices are now preparing for what could be a big wave of mail-in ballots. 

“The problem is it’s a big unknown," said Anderson. "We don’t know how many applications we’ll receive and how it’s going to impact us as far as how many people are going to take advantage of voting at home.” 

Anderson says, on top of Act 77, he's anticipating there could be even more mail-in ballots than expected due to coronavirus fears on election day. 

“With this," said Anderson. "My guess is yes, there’s definitely going to be people who are going to say I’m not going to risk it, I’m going to vote this way.”

The one problem with a large number of mail-in ballots, county election offices say they won't be able to begin opening and counting those mail-in ballots until polls close at 8. 

“A couple weeks ago it was ‘promote the mail in ballot,’ which we’re still doing. Don’t want to discourage that just like we don’t want to discourage people to come out and vote," said Mark Walter, York County Public Information Officer. "We just want to let people know that as it stand now results are going to be probably a little later than usual.”

State lawmakers are now in the early stages of finding a fix to this problem, including allowing county election offices to begin opening ballots before Election Day, that way they could begin counting the ballots immediately when polls close. 

Mike Straub with House Republicans says, in part, “We recognize potential challenges facing county election offices and are currently working on a bill to address those concerns.”

For more information on mail-in ballots, click here.

The deadline to register to vote has been extended, giving people 15 more days to register. Voters can mail in absentee ballots until 8pm on Election Day. To vote in this April primary, you must register by April 13th. To register to vote, click here.