No, Pennsylvania isn’t trying to disenfranchise COVID voters

Conservative commentator Wendy Bell falsely claimed Monday that the administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is attempting to “silence voters” by ordering people who were potentially exposed to the coronavirus to stay home on Election Day.

In a Facebook post liked and shared thousands of times, Bell asserted that the state Department of Health has sent a letter to thousands of voters informing them that they “must remain quarantined and not vote in person on election day. If they fail to obey the order, they face possible arrest.”

The post continued: “Do you believe the Wolf administration is attempting to silence voters — hours before the most important election in American history?”

In a follow-up post that also generated thousands of shares and likes, Bell said the state health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, is “trying to keep thousands of Pennsylvania voters QUARANTINED on election day. This is BIG!!!” And in a Facebook broadcast Monday, she called it a “stunning, shocking twist.”

Since many voters who support President Donald Trump have told pollsters that they prefer to vote in person on Election Day — instead of voting by mail, which Democrats are doing in far greater numbers than Republicans in Pennsylvania — Bell’s implication is that the Democrats who run Pennsylvania government are trying to block Trump voters from getting to the polls.

The reality: No one is trying to disenfranchise a voter who has been exposed to the coronavirus.

“The story that was on social media is completely false,” Levine said at a news conference Monday.

An email was sent to Bell seeking comment.

It is true that Pennsylvania sends a form letter to people who have been identified as a “close contact” of someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus. The letter instructs the potentially exposed person to quarantine for 14 days, and it says the health secretary has the authority to seek a court order and call on law enforcement to ensure compliance.

But the form letter says nothing whatsoever about Election Day, and a health department spokesperson, April Hutcheson, said Monday that the department has never once taken legal action against any Pennsylvania resident for breaking quarantine.

The department wants people to abide by quarantine rules to prevent the spread of the virus, Hutcheson said, but “we cannot force or tell individuals they cannot vote in person.”

What’s more, Pennsylvania has a workaround for voters who intended to cast their ballot in person on Election Day, but who no longer can because of an unexpected illness or some other unforeseen emergency.

It’s called an emergency absentee ballot. A voter isolating because of a positive virus test, or quarantining because of a potential exposure, can request such an emergency ballot.

State law even requires a sheriff’s deputy or some other county official to deliver the balloting materials, under certain circumstances.

“Every Pennsylvanian who is registered to vote will have the opportunity to do so,” Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said in a written statement Monday.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up