HONESDALE, PA — Just as things are dying down on the national stage from last year’s presidential election and its aftermath, it’s election season again in local …
HONESDALE, PA — Just as things are dying down on the national stage from last year’s presidential election and its aftermath, it’s election season again in local politics.
On Tuesday, May 18, Wayne County residents will be choosing the candidates for their next district magistrates, county sheriff and township or borough leaders, among other positions. River Reporter checked in with Wayne County’s Bureau of Elections Director Cindy Furman to find out what constituents need to know ahead of that vote.
As was the case last year, Pennsylvanians have two primary options for voting without physically going to the polls: absentee and mail-in ballots. Absentee ballots require a legitimate excuse, such as planning to be out of the municipality on Election Day or if you have a disability or illness that prevents you from going to the polls. Mail-in ballots, however, are available for any registered voter, no excuse required. Residents can apply for either ballot online at www.votespa.com or return the paper application to their local election office. Those who voted by mail last year and requested to be placed on a permanent mailing list should already have received an application for this year’s election in the mail and can mail it back. Once voters get their mail-in ballots, Furman stressed that they need to pay close attention when filling it out.
“When they get their ballots, whether it’s an absentee or mail-in, they need to follow the instructions: They have to vote the ballot [completely], they have to put it in the secrecy envelope and then they have to put it in the return envelope and sign the envelope,” Furman said. “If they don’t put it in the secrecy envelope, the state has nicknamed them ‘naked ballots’ and they won’t count. We won’t open them and we won’t count them.”
Voters who returned the mail-in applications should be on the lookout for ballots within the next two weeks. To be counted, ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day in the election office; envelopes postmarked on time but delivered late will not be counted.
Furman said that the same ballot dropbox that was in place for the last election will be at the entrance of the courthouse, under the surveillance of a sheriff’s deputy. The legality of ballot dropboxes was called into question in 2020 and is still subject to change. Furman doesn’t expect any changes to apply to Wayne, however.
“The state is still discussing whether they’re going to keep dropboxes, but other counties had them in other places, not in their courthouse,” she said. “Ours was okay because it was in the courthouse, it was under surveillance at all times and it was only open when the courthouse was open... People don’t have to worry that somebody else is handling the ballots; the only ones with a key to the box [are the election bureau staff].”
Furman also stressed that if voters receive a mail-in ballot and then decide that they want to vote in person, they cannot simply throw away the mail-in ballot and go to their local precinct on election day. They need to return their mail-in ballot to Furman’s office so she can cancel it.
Since it’s a primary election coming up, registered Democrats will be voting for Democratic candidates and registered Republicans will be voting for Republican candidates. However, there will also be four questions on the ballot this year that all registered voters, including independents, can answer. The first question concerns making municipal fire and medical emergency companies eligible for state loans.
“The purpose of the ballot question is to determine whether Pennsylvania voters authorize making municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel and emergency medical services companies eligible to apply for loans from an already existing state loan program,” according to the Department of State. Currently, this existing loan program is only eligible to volunteer companies, but the PA General Assembly has found that companies with paid personnel are in greatest need of loans.
The next two referendum questions were drawn up by the legislature in response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s liberal use of emergency declarations during the opioid crisis and COVID-19 pandemic. Voters will get to choose whether or not to grant lawmakers the authority to terminate or extend an emergency declaration by resolution, and whether or not governors’ emergency declarations should be subject to legislative approval every 21 days. Currently, such declarations last 90 days and can be renewed indefinitely by the governor.
The fourth question deals with adding an equal rights amendment to the PA Constitution.
“This amendment creates a constitutional prohibition against restricting or denying an individual’s equal rights under Pennsylvania law because of race or ethnicity,” according to the state department. “Generally, inclusion of this amendment within the Pennsylvania Constitution signifies that freedom from discrimination based on race or ethnicity is an essential principle of liberty and free government.”
Not unexpectedly, voter turnout is typically significantly lower in municipal election years than when presidential candidates are running. With the new mail-in option and the heightened participation in 2020 [nearly 80 percent], Furman isn’t sure what to expect in 2021.
“We’ve had as low as around a 20-percent turnout to maybe 35 percent in a municipal primary,” Furman said. “Right now, I’ve got 2,000 mail-in applications requested. So I’m not sure if that indicates that we’re going to have a higher turnout or if [residents are] just finding it easier to go through the mail rather than go in person.”
Though local elections never garner as much attention as the highly publicized presidential races, Furman said that the residents feel the effects of local races more directly.
“It’s your local races that affect everyday life,” Furman said. “It’s the local races that mean a lot personally.”
Monday, May 3: Last day to register to vote or change party affiliation
Tuesday, May 11: Last day to apply for a mail-in or absentee ballot
Tuesday, May 18: Day of the primary, all mail-in ballots need to be received by 8 p.m.; any ballots received later than this will not be counted, regardless of postmark.