June 2 is the official rescheduled date for the Pennsylvania primary.
But thanks to new laws in the state, early voting is happening now—and thanks to the dangers of gathering in this era of coronavirus, voting by mail may be your best option to both stay safe and have your say.
This is a primary election, so only Philly voters registered as either Democrat or Republican will be allowed to select candidates to face off in the November general election. They will also have the opportunity to elect delegates for the party conventions. For Independents, there is still a chance to vote on two ballot questions.
When the primary election was postponed, the voter registration deadline was also extended. You must now be registered by May 18 to vote in the primary. Not sure you are? Check here, and then take care of business here.
All set? Below you’ll find everything you need to know to vote in the PA primary.
Want to skip right to the nitty gritty? See who’s on the ballot in the PA 2020 primary for …
- President of the United States
- PA Attorney General
- Auditor General
- U.S. House of Representatives
- Senator in the General Assembly
- P.A. House of Representatives
- Delegate to the Democratic/Republican National Conventions
- What are the ballot questions
Complete voter guide to the 2020 primary in PA
Why should I vote in this election?
- You want to influence the Democratic party platform. Pennsylvania voters have often lamented our late position in the presidential primary process. All too often it seems, the presumptive nominee has been decided long before we get a chance to register our opinion. Democrats can’t change that this year, and Republicans aren’t really impacted by it to begin with. But that doesn’t mean a Democratic vote doesn’t count. The final delegate count will still communicate a message to the party about how progressive or moderate the platform should be in the months to come, and, potentially, demographics they must work to win over.
- You care about how the state spends your money. The title of auditor general may evoke images of pocket protectors and pencil pushers, but they serve a critical role as state watchdog. This office audits programs and spending to sniff out fraud, waste and corruption. It’s one of the only competitive races this spring, so it’s worth your time to peruse candidate websites and get acquainted with their priorities for this sweeping office.
Mail-in voting, eh? How does that work?
It’s true: You don’t have to wait until June 2 to satisfy that election urge. Early absentee voting has been available in PA for years. For the first time this year, you also have the option of voting by early mail-in ballot regardless of whether you will be here on June 2.
In addition to being a convenience, mail-in voting offers a safer option because it ensures social distancing, helps those who normally struggle to make it to the polls because of physical issues, and essential workers. In fact, everyone from the city commissioners, to the Committee of Seventy to statewide voting advocates are encouraging everyone to vote by mail this year to ensure the elections come off without a pandemic hitch. And, bonus: States with widespread mail-in voting also have higher turnouts.
You can apply for your mail-in or absentee ballot on the Votes PA website. Voters must apply for an absentee or mail-in ballot by 5pm on May 26, one week ahead of the election. If you decide to wait that long, however, you may be walking your ballot to the Board of Elections office in City Hall. Added challenge: City Hall is currently closed to the public. According to Commissioner Al Schmidt, the city commissioners are working on a workaround.
Mail-in ballots started hitting mailboxes in early May. The packets include a two-page print-out with plain text explanations of two ballot questions.
Your ballot must be received by the County Board of Elections by 8pm on Election Day, so mail it with plenty of time. If June 2 arrives and you realize you didn’t mail it in time, you can still deliver by hand to their offices in City Hall before the 8:00pm deadline. But why would you do that to yourself?
When are the polls open on June 2?
Polls will be open on Tuesday, June 2 from 7am to 8pm. Remember that you can get in line to vote before 7am, and you can vote as long as you were in line before 8pm—even if you don’t get into the actual voting booth until later. Also remember: Polling places change, so make sure you know where to go by checking here.
How will Covid-19 impact the election?
For starters, Covid-19 has forced the rescheduling of the Commonwealth’s primary to June 2. That required an act by the State Assembly, which Governor Wolf signed on March 27. The same bill also allows counties to begin counting mail-in ballots at 7am on June 2, rather than waiting until polls close at 8pm. It also eased several restrictions on location and staffing of polling locations.
Fortunately, even before the coronavirus crisis, Pennsylvania had planned to launch mail-in voting for the spring primary.
Why is Bernie Sanders on my ballot?
Bernie Sanders officially ended his presidential bid back in early April. While he has pledged his support for Joe Biden as the presumptive nominee, Sanders has simultaneously chosen to remain on the ballot to continue accumulating delegates ahead of the Democratic National Convention this summer.
Understanding there is no viable road to winning the nomination, Sanders’ strategy to eke out further delegates is designed to win greater influence over the party platform.
Who's on the ballot in the PA primary this year?
President of the United States of America
Our nation’s chief executive. If you’re reading this, it’s probably safe to assume you got that middle school civics lesson. One thing your eighth grade teacher may not have covered: delegates. Let’s take a second to talk about what you’re really voting for during a presidential primary.
Unlike every other office you’ll vote for, the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees are not selected simply by looking at the top popular vote getter. The big vote, the one that matters most, takes place at each party’s national convention. These are always scheduled to take place after the state primary season ends. The people casting their votes at these conventions are delegates. Your vote on June 2 tells these delegates how to vote. Sort of.
Each party has their own complex rules, with different sub-categories of delegates, policies around whether delegates must vote for the person the public told them to vote for, and how each state party distributes delegates (proportionately or in “Winner Take All” fashion). There are subtle differences between parties. Given Philly’s overwhelming Democratic majority, we’ll give a high level picture of how delegates will work for the competitive Democratic race.
Democrats have established two broad categories of delegates: pledged and unpledged. This year, Pennsylvanians will send 186 pledged Democratic delegates to the Democratic National Convention. These are divided up proportionately among candidates, provided they get at least 15 percent of the popular vote. Your vote should inform their vote.
PA will also send 24 unpledged delegates, often referred to as “superdelegates.” These folks can vote for whomever they deem fit.
Superdelegates are often seen as controversial. They harken back to days when parties controlled primaries from smoky back rooms, diminishing public participation. In fact, after a long history of insular party primaries, the Democrats moved to a system that put the vote directly in the public’s hands from 1970 to 1981.
After a couple of landslide defeats in the general election, Democrats worried this new system, which pleased registered Democrats, struggled to create candidates and platforms that stood a chance with undecided and unaffiliated voters in November. In 1982, they decided to reinstate some party influence by creating this new class of delegate. It’s likely to be the subject of perennial debate over whether the proportion of these unpledged delegates is fair, or whether this type of delegate is necessary at all.
One final note on delegates. When you select your presidential candidate, you are indicating how you want your party delegates to vote. You also get a chance to decide who you want your delegate to be. This vote appears down ballot, and is tied to your congressional district.
With that out of the way, let’s get back to the candidates:
Democratic Primary (Vote for 1)
- Joe Biden. Former Vice President, Senator from Delaware, and Obama era internet meme sensation. To date he has 1,435 pledged delegates.
- Bernie Sanders. Former congressman, current Senator from Vermont. He suspended his campaign in early April, but his sizable second place delegate count may offer him some influence over the party platform. To date he has 984 pledged delegates.
- Tulsi Gabbard. Congresswoman from Hawaii. Like Sanders, she has long since suspended her campaign. She has 2 pledged delegates.
Republican Primary (Vote for 1)
- Donald J. Trump. The current incumbent, which you’re aware of unless you live under a hermetically sealed rock with no access to Twitter.
- Bill Weld. Governor of Massachusetts. Proud owner of one pledged delegate. Weld suspended his campaign in late March but will still appear on the ballot.
- Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente. California businessman and 2016 candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. With zero pledged delegates to date, he has reportedly moved on from the Republican party, having been nominated to represent a group called the Alliance Party in the 2020 General Election.
PA Attorney General
The Attorney General of the Commonwealth is the top law enforcement official for the state, representing Pennsylvania in all legal matters brought against and by the state. The office is currently divided into four divisions: Criminal Law, Public Protection, Civil and Operations. It’s a broad mandate, and as such they also lead several hundred prosecutors.
Incumbent Josh Shapiro has faced praise and criticism from both sides of the aisle, at times picking battles with Trump over his travel ban, and at other points being lambasted by progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.
In the past few years the office has also taken action against perpetrators of the opioid crisis, and prosecuted predator priests in the Catholic church. Most recently, they partnered with the governor to warn against opportunistic price-gouging related to the Covid-19 crisis, and have hinted at forthcoming criminal charges against players in the state’s oil and gas industry.
- Josh Shapiro (incumbent)— uncontested
- Heather Heidelbaugh—uncontested
As the City Controller is the chief fiscal watchdog of the City, the Auditor General performs that function for the Commonwealth. The office aims to eliminate waste, and ensure state spending is compliant with law. They do this via financial audits on state agencies and dollars, and programmatic audits to ensure state initiatives are meeting goals effectively and efficiently.
The current Auditor General, Eugene DePasquale, is completing the second of two possible four-year terms, making this an open field.
- Nina Ahmad. Former Philadelphia deputy mayor
- Scott Conklin. Current State Representative representing Harrisburg
- Rosie Davis. Certified Public Accountant and Vice Chairman of the Smithfield Township Board of Auditors
- Tracie Fountain. A longtime employee of the Office of the Auditor General
- Christina Hartman. Organizer, and 2016 US Congress candidate
- Michael Lamb. Pittsburgh City Controller since 2008
- Timothy DeFoor—uncontested. Second term County Controller in Dauphin County.
- Joseph Torsella (incumbent)
U.S. House of Representatives
Philly is home to three Congressional Districts. The 2nd District covers most of the area east of Broad and north of Center City. The 3rd District encompasses most of West Philly and Center City. The 5th is an oddball in that its borders cross over three counties, with the largest coverage in Delaware County, a portion of South Philly, and a small slice of Montgomery County. Philadelphia’s section of the 5th includes portions of deep south Philly. Your ballot will display the options only for your district. Maps of each district can be found on the Committee of 70’s website.
- Dwight Evans (incumbent)
- Brendan Boyle (incumbent)
- Mary Gay Scanlon (incumbent) Freshman Congresswoman and pro-bono counsel
- Robert Jordan Self-described working class man in the paper products industry, Navy veteran, and Trump supporter
- Dasha Pruett Upper Darby resident, community volunteer, who grew up in the former Soviet Union and later earned her US citizenship through naturalization.
Senator in the General Assembly
The PA Senate is the upper house of Pennsylvania’s legislative body, and the final stop for bills created in the house. Like the US Senate, it is smaller than the lower house. Unlike the US Senate, which gives each State two seats evenly, State Senators all represent proportional districts. Republicans currently hold a 34-16 majority, which is enough to override a governor’s veto with a two-thirds majority without any help from Democrats.
There are only a few contested primaries. State Senators are elected to four-year terms with odd and even districts hosting elections for four-year term seats every two years. This is an odd-districts election, so voters in odd districts will not see this option on their ballots.
- Larry Farnese (incumbent) Attorney and State Senator for the district since 2009
- Nikil Saval Author and co-editor of literary magazine n+1, backed by progressive group Reclaim Philadelphia
- No candidate
- Sharif Street (incumbent)
- No candidate
- John Sabatina Jr. (incumbent)
- No candidate
- Vincent Hughes (incumbent)
- No candidate
PA House of Representatives (26 Districts)
State Representatives are all elected on even-numbered years to two-year terms. Some voters will see a single uncontested incumbent on the ballot for their district. Such is the case with Jordan Harris in the 186th District, for example, and Jason Dawkins in District 179 by Frankford and Olney.
Democrats in other parts of the city will see very competitive races on their ballots, such as the four-way races in West Philly’s 188th and 190th districts. Republicans are running in some of the 26 districts, though all unopposed in this primary.
Whereas U.S. representatives each serve about 707,000 people, state reps serve small districts of about 62,500 residents, making them way too small for most media market advertising. The size makes these races much more grassroots, even personal. If you know the candidates in your area, it’s likely through door-knocking, house parties and community outreach rather than radio and TV.
With folks running in 26 districts, there are way too many to list here. Check the Committee of 70’s nifty Digital Ballot Tool to see who’s on the ballot in your area.
Delegate to the Democratic/Republican National Convention
Near the end of your ballot (or on the reverse side of your mail-in ballot) you will see a list of delegates to your party’s national convention. Republican voters will get to select three of four possible names, and up to three of three possible alternates. These delegates are all committed to vote for the incumbent candidate, Trump, at the Republican National Convention.
Democrats will see a comparatively huge list of 25 names, with the ability to vote for up to 14 delegates. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, keep in mind this is mostly a popularity contest with little material impact except for the people on the ballot. You are voting to decide who gets the honor of participating in the convention. Each prospective delegate is already committed to either Biden or Sanders.
Presuming their nominee first meets the requirement of getting at least 15 percent of the vote, the Democratic National Committee will determine the proportion of delegates given to each. They will assign those candidates to each candidate based on the order determined by this vote.
What are the ballot questions?
Question No. 1: Proposed Charter Change
Shall the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to create a Department of Labor, headed by a Cabinet-level Director, to enforce City laws that protect Philadelphia workers; to oversee labor relations, such as collective bargaining, with the City’s unionized workforce; to investigate compliance with worker protections set forth in City contracts; and to manage programs concerning City employees; and to create a Board of Labor Standards to review and adjudicate matters arising from such work?
The Office of Labor exists right now, created by an executive order from Mayor Kenney. The office is tasked with, among other things, enforcing City laws related to the protection of City workers. You may have seen it in the news recently regarding the Philadelphia Film Society. When an employee realized the group had been violating the city’s sick leave law for years, she contacted the Office of Labor (the Film Society admitted to this and cited administrative oversight). A ‘yes’ vote on this measure means you would like to see this office become a more permanent “department.”
Question No. 2: Proposed Charter Change
Shall the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to revise rules pertaining to prohibited activities of appointed City officers and employees, to generally allow such officers and employees to volunteer for state and federal political campaigns outside of work time and without using City resources; to continue to prohibit participation in any political campaign for a City office or Philadelphia-based state office; and to revise penalty provisions pertaining to such restrictions and prohibited activities generally?
The City of Philadelphia employs over 25,000 workers. The current City Charter states that city employees can’t serve a paid role on a campaign, as a manager or consultant for example. It doesn’t specifically address whether they can participate in volunteer activity in support of candidates for federal and many state offices.
This change would allow most to do so in the future if they so choose, with the exception of workers and officers in a few specific departments (Sheriff, City Commissioners, District Attorney, Police and Board of Ethics).
If this new rule is voted in, City workers would still be restricted from participating in any way in campaigns for Philadelphia offices, as well as campaigns for state representatives, state senators, and local judges for whom Philadelphians vote. In a sort of trade-off, the provision calls for greater monetary penalties for violations of the remaining restrictions.
Correction: A previous version of this article conflated the 2nd and 3rd Congressional District boundaries.