By Senator Daylin Leach
As we all know, the Coronavirus pandemic has thrown just about everything into disarray. In response to the shut-down orders and social distancing recommendations we are living under, last week the Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill changing the date of our primary election from April 28th to June 2nd. I voted for that bill because we simply couldn’t have people congregating at the polls during the current stage of the crisis and this bill bought us some time. However, I strongly disagreed with setting a new in-person election for early June.
The epidemiologists and other health professionals offer a wide range of predictions as to what the arc of the Coronavirus crisis will be. Some are suggesting that our social isolation will have to continue for up to eighteen months. The most optimistic projections say that we are at least four months away from returning to some semblance of normalcy. Even the Trump administration, which for many weeks played down the seriousness of the virus, is now saying that they hope to start reopening businesses by late June.
Thus, it is very likely, and therefore very predictable, that a June 2nd day of in-person voting will be not only unrealistic, but also extremely irresponsible. Having millions of Pennsylvanians congregate, stand in line, and crowd fire halls, elementary school classrooms and gymnasiums seems like a recipe for a disastrous explosion of COVID-19 cases.
If we realize in mid-May that June 2nd is not going to work, our options will be quite limited. We can’t practically postpone the primary yet again because this is a presidential election year. We must elect delegates to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, which may themselves be virtual. If we don’t take appropriate preparatory steps now to deal with a situation where in-person voting is not possible, we will be in a terrible position. We won’t be able to conduct the election as it is usually conducted, yet we will have no time to develop a Plan B.
That is why we need begin to institute our Plan B now. We should immediately switch to an all-mail-in-ballot election. Such an election would eliminate the need for dangerous human interaction on primary day and ensure that how we conduct our election is not dependent on things beyond our control, such as what the status of the pandemic is on June 2nd. We would all know what the protocol is and can begin to work on making it successful now while there’s still time.
Keep in mind, some states, such as Oregon do all mail-in elections routinely and they function successfully. In fact, turnout in Oregon increased dramatically when they instituted their vote-by-mail system. It’s actually quite simple. Every registered voter is mailed a ballot and has thirty days to mail it back or drop it off at a designated drop box. There is no application process, and putting Coronavirus aside, it saves money because there is no need for voting machines to be shipped to thousands of polling locations or for the people to staff them.
It does however take time to organize a mail-in election. It requires planning, training, and educating of the public. Ballots have to be sent out and drop-boxes have to be set up. Decisions as to when the ballots will be counted need to be made. That is why we can’t afford to wait until a week or two before the scheduled primary to act. We must act now.
The final reason to do a mail-in primary is that it would be good to set this up and practice it in case we need it for the general election. Again, we don’t know where we will be in November, but if things are still bad, or perhaps even worse, we can’t afford to be blindly scrambling to figure out what to do. A mail-in election is safe, efficient and reliable. More importantly, it may turn out to be our only option. So, it’s best we begin the task now.
Senator Daylin Leach represents the 17th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Montgomery County and Delaware County. For more information visit www.senatorleach.com/newsroom.