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First responders' ballots could delay Pa. count

| Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, 7:28 a.m.

Hundreds of Pennsylvania ballots might not be counted until next week because emergency first responders assisting victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York, New Jersey and other locations were given extra time to vote in the presidential election.

Matthew Keeler, a spokesman for the Department of State, said Monday he did not expect more than 1,000 first responders to obtain emergency absentee ballots by yesterday's deadline.

Gov. Tom Corbett late last week signed an executive order that allowed emergency first responders who were assigned duties outside of their home counties to apply to vote through absentee ballots.

The regular deadline to apply for absentee ballots had expired on Oct. 30.

Keeler said state officials won't have an accurate count of the number of emergency ballots issued until Tuesday morning.

“We are trying to do what we can to allow these people to vote,” Keeler said.

The responders had until 5 p.m. Monday to obtain applications and have their ballots postmarked. Those ballots have to be received in the voter's home county by Nov. 13. They will be segregated and counted next week.

More than 40 voters — officers of Pennsylvania State Police and utility workers — sought absentee ballots from Westmoreland County on Monday.

“The day before the election is always hectic. With this extra work, it's been busier today,” said Jim Montini, director of the Westmoreland Election Bureau.

Fayette County officials reported 17 emergency absentee ballots were issued.

“It's a new wrinkle and it turned into a last-minute ordeal,” Larry Blosser, director of the Fayette County Election Bureau, said.

Emergency responders eligible for the late absentee ballots were identified by the governor as qualified Pennsylvania electors “whose absence from their county of residence on Election Day is required by order of their employer or other organization and is directly related to efforts of the elector's employer or other organization with which the elector is associated to recover from the effects of Hurricane Sandy.”

Blosser said the majority of requests came from county residents, employed by FirstEnergy, who were assisting with the widespread power outages resulting from last week's storm.

FirstEnergy's electric utilities include West Penn Power and Penn Power in Pennsylvania.

Employees were urged to seek absentee ballots by the original deadline because company officials feared their duties might pull them away from home on Election Day.

“What we did, before the storm was coming, we did some internal communication with our employees,” FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com. Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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