Pennsylvania primary could be postponed due to coronavirus, though law remains murky

With presidential primaries on hold due to public health concerns in Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland and Ohio, Pennsylvania’s primary scheduled for April 28 could well be the next postponed because of the coronavirus.

As voters undeterred by the threat of exposure cast ballots Tuesday in special elections in three Pennsylvania legislative districts, including the 58th House District in Westmoreland County, a spokeswoman for Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said officials were weighing whether to change the date of the primary.

“The Department of State is having comprehensive discussions about a range of potential options for the April primary election,” Department spokeswoman Wanda Murren said via email. “Those discussions are being held in consultation with the Department of Health, the governor’s office, the legislature and the counties. The department’s focus is on best ways to protect the integrity of the election while safeguarding public health.”

Voting rights advocates say such decisions hold serious implications for voters.

Louisiana triggered an outcry from civil rights groups Friday when it became the first state to postpone its presidential primary. Citing public health concerns, the state moved its primary from April 4 to June 2.

In a statement signed by more than 100 civil rights groups, including the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, the groups warned that “sudden changes to election times, locations, and more have been proven to create barriers to, and in some instances the denial of, citizens their right to vote.”

Georgia quickly followed suit, moving its election from March 24 to July 2, while officials in Kentucky moved its primary to June 23.

Maryland, which like Pennsylvania had a primary scheduled April 28, will hold its primary June 2. New York, another state with an April 28 primary, is said to be considering delaying balloting until June 28.

A thread running through those discussions may well be what circumstances merit such action and who has the authority to act.

Those were major issues when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine moved to postpone Ohio’s presidential primary, originally scheduled for Tuesday.

The announcement immediately sparked opposition as well as lawsuits seeking injunctions to halt such action. It wasn’t until early Tuesday that the Ohio Supreme Court finally ruled in favor of DeWine and his plan to postpone the primary until June 2.

Someone who wasn’t surprised was Christopher Deluzio, policy director at the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security. Nor would he be surprised to see similar issues surface in Pennsylvania.

Deluzio said, when the Institute’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security researched the state’s elections infrastructure, it learned the election code lacks clear authority to suspend elections. Deluzio said Pitt Cyber recommended the state act to remedy the oversight, but lawmakers ignored their finding.

He said lawmakers need to act to clarify the Election Code to enhance public trust and protect election security.

“Amidst the global health pandemic, guidance from local, state and federal officials to protect public health is ever-evolving, with serious implications for upcoming elections,” Deluzio said. “Here in Pennsylvania, Gov. Wolf has already hinted at the possibility of postponing the election.

“Yet, Pennsylvania’s Election Code provides no clear procedures or authority to do so, with the state courts instead relying on lawsuits to address emergencies affecting the vote without meaningful statutory guidance.”

Murren said voters concerned about the coronavirus can take advantage of mail-in voting, which Pennsylvania is making available to all residents for the first time this year.

The Department of State is accepting applications now for mail in ballots.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, or via Twitter .

Coronavirus | Election | News | Pennsylvania

Published at Wed, 18 Mar 2020 10:00:00 +0000

Source: Pennsylvania primary could be postponed due to coronavirus, though law remains murky.

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