Some suburban Philadelphia voters didn’t receive absentee ballots for primary before Passover

Jewish residents of Montgomery County reached out to their Congressional representatives, local election officials, Gov. Josh Shapiro’s office, and even their rabbis to sound the alarm

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Jewish voters in a major Pennsylvania county are concerned they won’t be able to vote in the state’s primary elections on Tuesday after not receiving their mail-in ballots before the start of Shabbat preceding Passover. 

Jewish residents of Montgomery County have been reaching out to their congressional representatives, local election officials, Gov. Josh Shapiro’s office and even their rabbis to sound the alarm that they had not received their absentee ballots in the mail ahead of Shabbat and the Passover holiday, which overlaps with the state’s primary day. 

Shapiro, a Democrat, and election officials had lobbied the state Legislature to move the date of the primary to no avail, leaving counties with less than a year to get their mail-in ballot and drop-box program ready to go.

In Montgomery County, where more than 10% of the population is Jewish, voters have warned that their absentee ballots had yet to arrive. A staffer for a House Democrat whose district is in the county told JI that they had not received their ballot as of late Thursday. The response rate of voters in Montgomery County compared to the rest of the state for the primary has been noticeably lower, with Montgomery County having a ballot return rate of under 52% as of Friday morning. It is unclear if the low return rate is related to voters not receiving their ballots. 

For observant Jews in the area who cannot vote during Shabbat or Passover, this may mean not being able to vote in the primary. 

Jen Groen, executive director of the Bala Cynwyd-based Kohelet Yeshiva, told JI that the issue is impacting the families of their students, all of whom are Modern Orthodox. 

“For months, our school has reminded families that the election is on the first day of Passover, that everyone should vote by mail, so that they have the opportunity to participate in this democratic right, in spite of this obstacle,” Groen said. “To now arrive at the election, and to see that voting is nearly impossible for so many community members, is extremely disheartening and frankly, alarming, especially considering the system worked in so many other counties.”

Reached by JI for comment, a spokesman for Shapiro’s office said in a statement that the administration “has been in direct communication with Montgomery County and USPS to assist them and provide additional guidance in order to ensure Jewish voters in the county who still need to vote before Passover are able to do so.”

“When a voter applies to their county board of elections for their mail-in ballot, they have an expectation that they’ll receive that ballot in ample time before Election Day – and the county must meet that expectation,” Shapiro spokesman Manuel Bonder said. 

Pennsylvania Unites, an advocacy organization focused on getting Jewish voters to the polls, tell JI they are encouraging election officials to place additional ballot drop boxes throughout the county and increase staff hours for election workers. The group is an offshoot of the Teach Coalition, which runs voter outreach efforts in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. 

“There are still ways that this could be remedied, and we’re pushing hard now to make sure that happens,” Dan Mitzner, government affairs director for Teach Coalition, said. “If you’re taking away voting on Election Day and you’re taking away vote-by-mail for all intents and purposes, there’s got to be some remedy that’s done so that we can ensure that our communities are not disenfranchised in this election, and that’s basically what’s happening.”

Montgomery County Commissioner Neil Makhija did not dispute that the primary date had caused issues for Jewish voters in particular when reached by JI. Makhija said that he and his family are practicing Jews and that delays in absentee ballot deliveries were unintentional. 

In a subsequent statement from the Commissioner’s Office, communications director Megan Alt said, “Montgomery County submitted our files to the ballot printer on April 2 after three necessary rounds of quality assurance with our voting system vendor. A subsequent bottleneck at the print vendor resulted in a later delivery of mail-in ballots to voters.”

“Unfortunately, we believe this issue could arise with other counties — this time it was Montgomery County, next time it could be a neighbor,” the statement continued. “The ballot was not able to be certified by the state until March 22, only a month before the election. Pennsylvania voters have a right to an election code that allows access to the ballot well in advance of an election as Act 77 provides.”

Makhija said that he and his team “are and have been taking extra steps to address the situation — we opened drop boxes 24/7, we added additional hours to our satellite offices, and we are continuously urging voters to use these resources to ensure their ballots were returned in time for the election.” He added that he and his team “will be meeting with each of these vendors to assess their capacity” before the November election and “continue to advocate with our state partners to improve the state’s timeline.”

Makhija’s office told JI over the weekend that they were informed late Thursday by the U.S. Postal Service “that approximately 200 ballots that should have been delivered by USPS were not.” Those ballots are expected to be delivered on Saturday – during Shabbat. The office also said that those who receive their ballots late should be advised that most ballot drop boxes will remain open 24 hours daily until April 23 at 8 p.m. local time, and those who opt to vote in person instead have the ability to do so.

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