Democrats in Pa. request, return more absentee ballots ahead of midterm election

Voters formed a long line in Philadelphia City Hall last week to get their absentee ballots. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Voters formed a long line in Philadelphia City Hall last week to get their absentee ballots. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

While Pennsylvania does not allow early voting — unlike 37 other states — more-than-typical requests for absentee ballots ahead of Tuesday’s midterm election indicate heightened interest among members of both parties.

Democrats out-requested and out-returned registered Republicans when casting absentee ballots in the commonwealth, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

In total, 229,875 Pennsylvania voters received absentee ballots this year, up from 96,849 in 2014. That number approaches levels seen during the last two presidential election years, when counties sent out 292,000 and 282,000 absentee ballots to voters.

College students, people vacationing or working out of town during the election, those with disabilities, members of the military, and people celebrating a religious holiday can all qualify to vote via absentee ballot in Pennsylvania. The deadline for county election offices to receive those ballots was Friday. Military and overseas voters can send their ballots back later, so long as they’re postmarked by 11:59 p.m. the day before the general election.

As of Monday morning, more than 62,000 ballots had been returned to county boards of elections in Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware counties, according to Wanda Murren, spokeswoman for the Department of State.

In the southeastern part of the state, Bucks and Montgomery voters had requested and returned the most ballots. In Bucks, which makes up most of the competitive 1st Congressional District, nearly three times as many voters requested absentee ballots compared with 2014.

That’s an indicator of just how important this election — and this county — are, said political pollster and Franklin and Marshall professor Terry Madonna.

“No. 1, you have the fact that this is a referendum on President Trump,” he said. “You also have a very important, nationally watched congressional election in Bucks County — with a lot of ads, a lot of interest, and a lot of outside money.”

Democrats also edged out Republicans in total requested and returned absentee ballots — an exception, according to local election experts.

“It tends to be folks who can’t leave their house, older folks, rural folks, and [they] tend to break Republican,” said St. Joseph’s University political science professor Laura Bucci. Across Pennsylvania, Democrats requested nearly 20,000 more absentee ballots than Republicans — 113,495 compared with 93,481, according to the Department of State.

These votes will not be counted until after the election, but they may still be an indicator of enthusiasm among voters.

“I do think that the absentee voting increase is another sign, and there are several, that the turnout in Pennsylvania is going to exceed prior midterms,” said Madonna.

 

County Dem. Applications Received Rep. Applications Received  Total Applications Received
Bucks 8,311 6,847 17,305
Chester 7,251 6,327 15,769
Delaware 5,964 4,101 11,271
Montgomery 12,385 6,438 21,147
Philadelphia 11,308 1,550 14,265

 

County Dem. Ballots Received Rep. Ballots Received Total Ballots  Received
Bucks 6,870 5,868 14,452
Chester 5,706 5,171 12,543
Delaware 4,659 3,456 9,016
Montgomery 9,512 5,177 16,397
Philadelphia 7,792 1,081 9,729

Numbers provided by the Pennsylvania Department of State as of 7 a.m. Monday, November 5. 

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