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Gov. Wolf extends deadline for absentee ballots to be received in 6 counties, including Dauphin

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Amid a surge in mail-in ballots, the COVID-19 public health emergency and civil disturbances in six counties, Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday signed an executive order extending the deadline for county election offices in Allegheny, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties to receive absentee or mail-in ballots by mail to 5 p.m. June 9.

The ballot must be postmarked no later than Tuesday, June 2. The deadline to hand deliver absentee or mail-in ballots remains 8 p.m. June 2.

“This is an unprecedented time for Pennsylvania and our nation as we face a major public health crisis and civil unrest during an election,” Wolf said. “Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and I want to ensure that voters can cast their ballot and that it is received in time.”

There have been activities across the country ranging from peaceful protests to violence in the aftermath of the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. According to CNN, an independent autopsy says Floyd died of "asphyxiation from sustained pressure" when his neck and back were compressed by Minneapolis police officers during his arrest. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Erie and many other Pennsylvania cities were locations for demonstrations. Some turned violent.

The six counties included in the executive order are part of a disaster emergency declaration the governor signed Saturday in response to the civil unrest to provide assistance to the municipalities.

While the vast majority of counties have been able to process their applications and mail their ballots, the volume of applications in the six counties caused by the COVID-19 crisis combined with the civil disturbance make it necessary to extend the deadline for the counties to receive completed civilian absentee and mail-in ballots,” according to a press release. “Curfews, travel restrictions and other unforeseen circumstances have made returning ballots more difficult in these counties. The extension will help to ensure that voters in those counties are not disenfranchised through no fault of their own.”

Mail-in ballots are new to Pennsylvania under Act 77 of 2019, which Wolf signed last year as part of election law changes. The law created the option of mail-in ballots with no excuse needed, along with later deadlines for voter registration and for returning mail-in and absentee ballots.

Nearly 1.8 million Pennsylvania voters have applied for a mail ballot since the onset of COVID-19.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, in March the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed and Wolf signed Act 12 of 2020, which rescheduled the primary election from April 28 to June 2, to reduce crowding at polling places and encourage voters to use mail-in ballots.

The last time an executive order was utilized to extend the deadline to return absentee ballots was in 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy.

Republican leaders of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, House Speaker Mike Turzai, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler issued the following statement in response to Wolf’s order:

“Free and fair elections mean that one person cannot change the rules at the 11th hour. Pure and simple.

“The General Assembly was not consulted or advised of this order. ‘Working together’ has to be more than a talking point.

“The Founding Fathers established a system with checks and balances. Even in an emergency, the General Assembly has an obligation to protect our citizens while defending our democracy.

“We are working with our counsel to determine what steps are available to ensure the people’s trust in the election process is solidified.”