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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke November 2, 2020

Pennsylvania residents under COVID-19 quarantine can cast an emergency absentee ballot

If Your Time is short

  • During the pandemic the Pennsylvania Department of Health has sent letters to close contacts of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, directing them to quarantine to try to prevent the spread of the disease.
  • The letters say that residents under quarantine are not supposed to leave their homes. They do not mention voting. 
  • Pennsylvania residents under quarantine can request and cast an emergency absentee ballot on Election Day. If no one is available to cast a ballot on the voter’s behalf, a county official will provide the ballot and return it for them.

On the eve of Election Day, a warning started to spread on social media that the state of Pennsylvania was undermining voters. "After a reported ‘uptick' in Covid positive cases," a Facebook post said, "thousands of Pennsylvania voters in York, Lebanon, and Dauphin counties have been receiving letters from the Department of Health demanding that they quarantine for 14 days." 

The post continued: "The letter states that they’ve been exposed to Covid-19 (no proof given) and, as such, must remain quarantined and not vote in person on election day. If they fail to obey the order they face possible arrest. Do you believe the Wolf administration is attempting to silence voters — hours before the most important election in American history?"

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

It coincided with some grim news from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which announced on Nov. 2 a two-day total of nearly 4,000 new COVID-19 cases, and 28 consecutive days with more than 1,000 new reported cases. Rachel Levine, the state’s secretary of health, said the virus is now "everywhere," spreading not just in big urban cities but in smaller, rural areas.

We reached out to Pennsylvania officials about the Facebook claim and here’s the upshot: Everyone can vote, regardless of their quarantine status — it’s just that some may have to do it using an emergency absentee ballot, which can be requested on Election Day and must be returned to the county board of elections by 8 p.m. If the voter doesn’t have anyone who can return it for them, a county employee will be made available for the task.

The Department of Health has been sending letters to Pennsylvania residents who have been identified as "close contacts" of people who have tested positive for COVID-19. These letters order recipients to quarantine. The letters don’t mention voting, but the rules of quarantine do prohibit someone from showing up at the polls on Election Day. However, the state provides that these voters can still cast an emergency absentee ballot, despite the quarantine. 

Here’s what we know.

The letter orders recipients to quarantine for 14 days from the date of last contact with the person with COVID-19. Recipients who live with the infected person must self-quarantine for 14 days starting on the date the person with COVID-19 is released from isolation. 

"A person can develop the virus and become infectious between 2 to 14 days after exposure," the letter says, "therefore, you must quarantine for the entire 14 days even if you have had a negative test during this time."

Only health care workers abiding by certain requirements are allowed to leave the place where they are quarantined.

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State officials did not respond directly to multiple questions PolitiFact asked about whether someone would face arrest if they defied the quarantine order and showed up at the polls. The letter health officials sent doesn’t explicitly mention the possibility of arrest. 

It warns, however, that "if you do not cooperate with this directive, the Secretary of Health may petition a court to have you confined to an appropriate place chosen by the Department to make certain that you are not able to infect the public, and to make certain that you receive proper care. This may be a hospital, or some other appropriate place, whichever the Department determines is best suited for your case. … Law enforcement may be called upon, to the extent necessary, to ensure your compliance with this directive."

Lyndsay Kensinger, press secretary for Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, told us "people under quarantine can still exercise their right to vote using an emergency absentee ballot."

They can either have someone pick up and return their emergency ballot on their behalf or, if no one is available, the law requires the county to send a sheriff’s deputy or another county employee to help provide and return the ballot, Kensinger said. Pennsylvania residents can apply for an emergency ballot through Election Day. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Pennsylvania has mailed letters to some directing them quarantine, Kensinger said. "The significant uptick in cases we’re seeing means a corresponding uptick in letters," she said. The state identifies the close contacts of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 through contract tracing.

"We urge those directed to isolate or quarantine to follow all instructions contained in the letters they receive, and to exercise their right to vote," Kensinger said. 

Our ruling

The Facebook post claims that letters from Pennsylvania’s Department of Health order people to quarantine and not vote in person on Election Day. The post suggests that this is a voter suppression effort.

In actuality, the state has been issuing quarantine directives to close contacts of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March. These letters do order recipients to quarantine, but they don’t mention voting. The letters also warn that the state’s health secretary could call on the courts or law enforcement to intervene if the recipients do not cooperate. 

However, those under quarantine can still cast an emergency ballot until 8 p.m. on Election Day. 

We rate this post Mostly False.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here, for more.


Our Sources

Facebook post, Nov. 12, 2020, Pa. reports nearly 4,000 new COVID-19 cases over two days, Nov. 2, 2020

Philadelphia Inquirer, In Pennsylvania, COVID-19 is not a rural, urban, and suburban problem, Nov. 2, 2020

Erie News Now, How to vote in Pa. if you’re diagnosed with COVID-19 before Election Day, Oct. 28, 2020

Votes PA, Pennsylvania application for emergency ballot, visited Nov. 2, 2020

Votes PA, Last minute emergencies, visited Nov. 2, 2020

Letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Health re: "Close contacts of person with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)" 

Pennsylvania Department of Health press release, Nov. 2, 2020

Email interview with Lyndsay Kensinger, press secretary, Gov. Tom Wolf, Nov. 2, 2020

Email interview with Nate Wardle, press secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Health, Nov. 2, 2020


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Pennsylvania residents under COVID-19 quarantine can cast an emergency absentee ballot

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