Pennsylvania boosting efforts to promote voting by mail amid COVID-19 pandemic

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Gov. Tom Wolf's administration is boosting its efforts to get voters to cast their primary election ballots by mail, saying it would help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The administration sent 4.2 million postcards to primary voters and is mounting an awareness campaign on radio, television, social media, streaming services, mobile apps and email, officials said Wednesday.

LINK: Find out more at VotesPA.com

Wolf's administration has not heeded calls from several heavily populated counties to move to an all-mail June 2 election, or nearly all-mail, by mailing a ballot to every registered voter.

But the state's efforts to get voters to apply for a mail-in ballot or absentee ballot have gotten traction, with more than 462,000 voters applying for a mail-in ballot and more than 139,000 applying for an absentee ballot, according to Wolf administration figures.

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Wolf's administration has rejected the idea of mailing out ballots, saying it worried about ensuring that voting is accessible to the disabled and that ballots are mailed to the correct addresses.

Republican and Democratic party officials in Pennsylvania have encouraged people to vote by mail amid concerns from county officials who fear the virus will make it difficult to find polling places and get poll workers to staff them. Election officials in various counties say they probably will be forced to operate far fewer polling places than normal.

During the 2016 primary, 84,000 votes were cast under the absentee ballot system, which is available only to those who offer an acceptable reason they would not be able to vote in person. Mail-in ballots were authorized in a sweeping new election law Wolf signed last fall.

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Registered voters can apply online for a mail-in or absentee ballot through 5 p.m. May 26.

Wolf's administration said it will use federal aid to provide counties with funding to promote mail-in voting, purchase protective supplies for poll workers and hire additional election staff.

The state government is also purchasing infection-protection kits for all counties to use in precinct polling places.

Other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania:

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CASES

Pennsylvania's COVID-19 death toll rose by 58 to 1,622, the state health department reported Wednesday, with more than 1,150 additional people testing positive for the virus that causes the disease.

Statewide, more than 35,600 people have tested positive.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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MASS TESTING SITE

A new mass testing site in hard-hit northeastern Pennsylvania tested 126 people for the virus in its first two days of operation, health officials said Wednesday.

The drive-thru testing site is for health care workers and first responders with symptoms of COVID-19, and symptomatic people ages 65 and older. The site is in the parking lot of the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, outside Wilkes-Barre.

Several counties in northeastern Pennsylvania, including Lehigh, Monroe and Luzerne - where the testing site is - have some of highest rates of infection in the state.

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