HONESDALE, PA — Throughout most of the April 28 Wayne County Commissioners meeting, a constant, metallic clanging echoed from the other end of the hallway. The noise sounded like the almost rhythmic clamor of construction, something familiar to employees of the courthouse, which had been undergoing renovations for several weeks before the pandemic hit. The sound wasn’t coming from contractors, however. As Joe Adams pointed out at the end of the meeting, it was coming from the nearby Bureau of Elections; its employees have been using their stamp machine constantly, sending out more applications for mail-in and absentee ballots than they ever have before.
Bureau of Elections director Cindy Furman said that, by that morning, the bureau had issued 2,706 mail-in or absentee ballots. Even four weeks before the June 2 primary, it’s already larger than the number of absentee ballots issued for either the 2008 or 2012 General Elections.
“This is the first year for mail-in ballots and people are taking advantage of them,” Furman said, referencing the update to PA’s election code which now allows residents to vote through mail-in ballots without any excuse needed. Furman said that 805, roughly one-third, of the issued ballots have been filled out and sent back by residents.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dyberry Township voters will cast ballots at the main office of the fairgrounds, rather than at Bethany Village Senior Living. In Mount Pleasant Township, residents might not be voting at their regular Pleasant Mount Public Library polling place, however, Furman had not yet determined an alternate location.
Furman said that some of the regular poll workers have told her that they won’t be working this election because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. She said that the bureau might hire different staff for the affected polling places, or possibly consolidate some polling locations into one. Chairman Brian Smith asked residents to “please stay tuned” for more updates from local media for information on their polling place this election.
Furman also commented on the safety precautions that will be in place for voters who choose to cast ballots in person. She said the PA Department of State is sending polling place protection kits containing masks, gloves and wipes. In addition to adhering to state guidelines, the bureau is also looking into purchasing Plexiglas dividers to keep poll workers and voters separated.
Smith said he hoped Wayne County will have returned to a “much more normal state” by the day of the primary.
“Our county does not have the number of positive tests and/or deaths because of COVID-19 that other areas around us have had,” he said. “So we’re hoping and looking forward to opening up with an area that’s maybe going to graduate to yellow quicker than other areas, and then also maybe going to green before some of the other areas.”
Gov. Tom Wolf recently announced that, on Friday, May 8, 24 counties will switch from red to yellow in his three-phase, color-coded plan. Wayne and Pike counties were not on that list. According to the governor’s data, Northeastern PA ranks high in terms of “COVID case risk,” calculated by the number of confirmed cases versus the population, as well as “ICU capacity risk,” calculated by the number of senior citizens in the region versus the number of unoccupied intensive care unit beds.
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