Mail-in ballot counting will begin Tuesday morning, officials say

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May 17—Mail-in and absentee ballots for Tuesday's primary election are being returned at a fraction of the rate county elections offices saw last fall.

But the more than 4,200 ballots returned in Cambria County as of Monday morning still far exceeds the numbers officials saw before mail-in opportunities were expanded in 2020, election officials said.

Maryann Dillon, head clerk in the Cambria County elections office, said 6,361 people applied for mail-in or absentee ballot forms this year. As of Monday morning, 4,210 had been returned, she said.

By comparison, 21,602 people applied for mail-in or absentee ballot forms for the November election, and 17,929 were returned, Dillon said.

Registered voters in Indiana County returned more than 15,000 mail-in ballots last fall and 7,116 during 2020's spring primary, according to Debra Streams, voter registration director. This spring, the county mailed out 4,695 ballots, and 3,636 had been returned as of Monday, she said.

That includes residents who are out of the area and military personnel who are overseas this week, Streams said.

Since municipal election years draw far less interest than presidential years, the lower total isn't a surprise, Streams said.

By Pennsylvania state law, mail-in counting cannot begin until Election Day regardless of the number of ballots received. Cambria and Indiana officials said workers will begin opening mail-in envelopes on Tuesday morning so counting can get going.

Efforts to reach Somerset County elections officials for comment on Monday were unsuccessful.

Ways to vote

Polling stations across the region open at 7 a.m. Tuesday for registered voters to cast ballots in person for a list of races in their communities, including several county row office seats, school boards and local government positions.

Top vote-getters for each party will land nominations on the Democratic or Republican tickets to appear on the ballot for the general election in November.

Voters have the chance to submit mail-in ballots on Election Day again this year, but they must be received at local election offices by the time polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

One option is dropping off a mail-in ballot at the county election office, which is inside the Cambria County Courthouse in Ebensburg for Cambria's voters. Postmarks do not count.

The deadline to request a ballot was May 11, so only those who have already received their mail-in forms are eligible to choose that option.

Cambria County — for decades a Democrat stronghold — is now solidly Republican red. The latest voter registration figures, as of May 3, show 40,241 county residents are registered Republicans, compared to 36,354 Democrats.

That signals a swift shift. Democrats held a 46,589-to-26,941 advantage in May 2015, days before former President Donald J. Trump began his successful run for the presidency.

The county's registration edge flipped to the Republican Party in September.

The number of independent voters has also increased in the county, although at a lower rate, figures show.

As of early this month, 8,996 people were registered as third-party members or independents. The total was 8,800 last year and approximately 6,000 a decade ago.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram {/em}@TDDavidHurst{em}.

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