A historic level of voter turnout is expected locally this year.

Election directors Shirley Crowl in Cambria County, Tina Pritts in Somerset and Debra Brown in Bedford anticipate more than three-quarters of registered voters in their counties may cast ballots, spurred on by the presidential race between President Donald Trump, a Republican, and Democratic Party nominee former Vice President Joe Biden.

“There is a lot of publicity obviously on this election,” Pritts said.

When asked what turnout to expect in Cambria, Crowl said 80% was possible, but added, “I don’t have a clue. This is not an election like any we’ve ever had.”

Pritts estimated 85% might participate in Somerset, the same level Brown thinks could be reached for Bedford.

Those would be by far the highest turnouts in recent memory.

Brown advised individuals to avoid peak times and to expect to possibly wait in line for a while.

“I think everything is going to run fine,” Brown said. “I think the polls are going to be long, the lines are going to be long, but there’s nothing we can do about it. I think it will be fine. We’ll have everything and process it through.”

As of Sunday, more than three-quarters of requested mail-in ballots had been returned in all three counties, according to electproject.github.io/Early-Vote-2020G/PA.html: Cambria (16,686 out of 21,486), Somerset (7,773 out of 9,536), Bedford (5,190 out of 6,704).

Cambria and Somerset plan to begin opening mail-in ballots at 7 a.m. Tuesday and hope to have a count of all votes by the end of the night. Bedford will start at 7:30 a.m.

Extra workers will be used in each county to help process the votes.

For example, in Cambria, six two-person teams will work together opening mail-in ballots.

“We will just keep plugging away until we get them done,” Crowl said.

Individuals who received mail-in ballots but who now want to cast a vote in person must bring the ballot they received, along with the envelope, to be surrendered and voided. The voters will then get new ballots to fill out on site.

“They have to have all of the balloting materials,” Crowl said.

“The envelope and the ballot have got to be included in that. Not one or the other, but both.”

Even with the large amount of mail-in ballots used, tens of thousands will be flocking to local polling places on Tuesday where COVID-19 precautions will be in place, including hand sanitizer, gloves and Plexiglass shields.

“We’re asking our voters to please wear masks when entering the polling place, but, of course, we can’t require it,” Pritts said.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar spoke to the mitigation efforts, saying, “We want voters to feel safe going to the polls on election day to exercise their constitutional right to vote. In addition to all the precautions that counties are taking, voters should follow common-sense measures, such as wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing at the polls.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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