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Fact check: Letters giving COVID-19 quarantine orders are not linked to Pennsylvania election race

Shared thousands of times, posts on Facebook say that Pennsylvania voters in certain counties are receiving letters from the Department of Health advising them that they “must remain quarantined and not vote in person” on Election Day. The post goes on to question whether this is an attempt to “silence voters”. This question is misleading and presented on a false basis. Letters giving quarantine directions have been sent out only in response to recorded COVID-19 cases and close contacts, as has been the case since March. Moreover, anyone under such an order can still vote.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

Radio host Wendy Bell posted on her Facebook page ( here ) that “thousands of Pennsylvania voters in York, Lebanon, and Dauphin counties” had received the quarantine letters. “Do you believe the Wolf administration is attempting to silence voters -- hours before the most important election in American history?” she asks. Other iterations of the post can be found here and here .

These quarantine letters are not new, and so do not mention voting or Election Day, but they do direct people to self-quarantine in their homes. Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania governor’s office, confirmed to Reuters via email that the state health department has been sending letters “consistently since March, and throughout the pandemic, to people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and to their close contacts as determined by the contact tracing process.”

Kensinger explained that the recent uptick in letters corresponds with the state’s recent uptick in cases. Pennsylvania is among the 34 U.S. states that have seen new cases increase for at least two weeks in a row ( here ). York, Lebanon, and Dauphin counties are among those seeing infections rise ( here ).

According to Kensinger, the letters provide recipients with instructions to “quarantine for a defined period” in order to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. She said that the quarantine letters “do not instruct people not to vote and people under quarantine can still exercise their right to vote using an emergency absentee ballot.”

As explained here by Erie News Now, Pennsylvania voters in quarantine can apply for an emergency absentee ballot as late as Election Day itself, so long as they are returned to the county board of elections by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.

Pennsylvania voters can find the emergency ballot applications form here in English and here in Spanish .

The governor’s office told Reuters that Pennsylvanians under quarantine orders should authorize a representative to pick up and return their emergency ballot on their behalf. If they cannot find a representative, the law requires the county to send a Sheriff’s Deputy or other county staff to help provide and return ballot materials (Pennsylvania voters can authorize a representative to pick up or drop off their emergency absentee ballot by filling out a form here in English or here in Spanish).

During a press conference on Nov. 2, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine reminded those in quarantine to contact their county elections office for an emergency absentee ballot if they were planning to vote in person but are no longer able to do so ( here) .

VERDICT

Misleading. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has been issuing COVID-19 quarantine letters for months throughout the pandemic, and letters sent in recent days are linked to recent cases, not political strategy. They do not stop anybody voting. Pennsylvanians that are unable to show up to vote in person on election day may complete an emergency ballot.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here  . 

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