By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania will extend deadlines for absentee ballot applications after Hurricane Sandy forced many county courthouses to shutter in the storm.
It’s unclear how many counties will require the extension.
Typically, the official deadline for application to vote absentee is 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before the election. But that deadline will be extended by one day for every day a county courthouse was closed this week due to Sandy, according to the Department of State.
The deadline for completed ballots remains Friday, Nov. 2 by 5 p.m.
At a noon news conference Tuesday, Gov. Tom Corbett said that no decisions have been made about extending the ballot deadline for residents who may be mailing them in from out of state, adding that “a good portion of the country has postal service availability, but we haven’t made a decision there at this point.”
A spokesman with the Department of State said officials did not have a tally of how many courthouses were closed Monday or Tuesday due to Sandy, but said it was likely “a good number.”
The absentee application process is time-sensitive. After a voter applies for an absentee ballot, the county’s Board of Elections sends the voter a ballot that must be received by 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day to be counted in full.
In a presidential year, ballots received by the close of the polls are tallied for the presidential and vice-presidential race, according to the Department of State.
“I urge voters to mail applications immediately, and county election officials to process these applications and get absentee ballots to voters as quickly as possible,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele in a statement.
Absentee ballot applications are available to disabled voters, those observing religious holidays, active military service members and their families and others who may be unable to visit a polling place on Election Day.
The application announcement came Monday evening while the storm was still passing. Hurricane Sandy knocked out power for 1.3 million Pennsylvanians, sent more than 900 residents in emergency shelters and triggered a general shutdown of travel, government and business. Residents were urged to stay home in the face of high winds and consistent rain. The state confirmed three storm-related deaths.
Thirty-eight of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties were under emergency declaration because of the storm, as of a Tuesday morning update.
It’s unclear if residual power outages or damage from Sandy will change in-person voting on Election Day, Nov. 6.
Corbett said the Department of State is reaching out to county election boards to “assess what their needs are right now” in terms of having polling places without power. From there, the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission will assist “to get the electric companies to make sure those polling places have power, so we resolve it now and take that issue off,” Corbett said.