Philly’s coronavirus response

The deal with PA’s ‘infection-protection’ kits and how to vote safely

There could be half the regular number of polling places open on June 2.

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Danya Henninger / Billy Penn
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More than 50,000 Philadelphians have registered to vote by mail so far in the upcoming primary election, the state’s first where anyone can request a remote ballot.

That’s a lot of voters — more than a quarter of the usual turnout for a noncontested presidential primary, according to City Commissioner Al Schmidt. He and other city officials have been promoting mail-in ballots as the safest way to vote during the pandemic.

Across the entire state, more than 460,000 Pennsylvanians have applied for a mail-in ballot.

But even people who head to the polls on June 2 can take some comfort in knowing their voting locations will be taking special precautions to avoid coronavirus spread. As ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf this week, the commonwealth is planning to distribute 6,000 free infection-protection kits across all Pa. counties.

The cost of these kits is expected to be covered by a $14 million grant from the federal government to cover COVID-related election modifications, said Wanda Mullen, spokesperson for the Pa. Department of State.

According to Mullen, each kit will include:

  • Hundreds of antibacterial wipes
  • 20 pairs of gloves
  • 20 surgical masks for poll workers — enough for them to change halfway through the day
  • 10 micro hand sanitizer kits for poll workers
  • 1 hand sanitizer pump bottle for voters
  • 10 alcohol screen wipes
  • 3 microfiber cloths
  • 10 sanitary headset covers
  • Instructions on how to disinfect voting machines

The City Commissioners office confirmed on Thursday that Philadelphia polling places would receive the hygiene-helping packages, although the date of shipment hasn’t yet been determined.

It’s not clear how many kits the city will need, because… it’s not clear how many polling places Philly will actually open this year.

An emergency provision of an existing Pennsylvania law allows counties to consolidate polling places by up to 60% to prevent as much viral spread as possible. That means we could see fewer than half the normal number of polling places in Philly.

By the time the election arrives, Pa.’s stay-at-home orders are expected to be somewhat relaxed. They’ll be lifted gradually and by region, so it’s unclear what level of quarantine will be in effect in Philadelphia on June 2.

Some other states that proceeded with in-person elections during the height of the pandemic saw consequences. Florida held an election in mid-March, before a lockdown went into effect, and recorded at least two infections among poll workers.

And in Wisconsin, a bitter partisan fight prohibited mail-in voting from materializing. After the April 7 in-person election, the Milwaukee health commissioner found at least seven coronavirus cases related to voting.

All the more reason to apply for a mail-in ballot, officials say, despite the incoming disinfecting kits.

Extra bonus: You don’t have to worry too much about finding a stamp. The United States Postal Service recently confirmed it would get the ballots where they need to go.

“It is the Postal Service’s policy not to delay the delivery of completed Absentee or Vote-By-Mail ballots even if no postage has been affixed or if the postage is insufficient,” USPS spokesperson Martha Johnson told the Guardian.

Want to vote remotely? There’s still time to apply: Mail-in ballot applications will be accepted until May 26.

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s coronavirus response stories.

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