Nation waits as PA continues to tally votes

2020 U.S. presidential election in Philadelphia
Electoral workers count ballots at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City, a process that is being live-streamed.
REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Election results continued to trickle in Wednesday, as election workers carried on with the tedious task of counting thousands of mail-in ballots in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

Pennsylvania, along with several other “swing states,” has yet to be called by major media outlets for either candidate, leaving the presidential race still up for grabs when the Metro went to print.

As of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, President Donald Trump was up in Pennsylvania by just over 6 points, an advantage of about 370,000 votes.

But while nearly all of the state’s in-person votes have been tabulated, about 41% of mail-in ballots — more than 1 million votes — had yet to be counted.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is expected to do better among those who voted by mail. About 64% of the state’s mail-in ballots were submitted by registered Democrats.

In Philadelphia, the Biden ticket was doing predictably well, with just under 80% of the vote. By Wednesday at around 4 p.m., poll workers had counted 233,583 mail-in ballots out of an expected total of more than 350,000.

More than 2.6 million mail-in ballots have been returned in Pennsylvania, and that number could increase as additional envelopes arrive during a three-day post-election window established by a state Supreme Court ruling.

Gov. Tom Wolf, speaking in Harrisburg, said it would be possible that neither candidate would pull away with a commanding lead Wednesday.

“We have to be patient but confident that these votes are going to be counted,” he said. “They’re going to be counted accurately, and they will be counted fully.”

“We may not know the results even today,” Wolf added.

Trump, on Twitter, appeared to be dismayed at the slow pace, especially as his leads in some states began to shrink.

“Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key States, in almost all instances Democrat run & controlled,” he said. “Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted. VERY STRANGE, and the “pollsters” got it completely & historically wrong!”

The social media platform flagged a few of his messages as containing information that “is disputed and might be misleading.”

Election officials have said that counting mail-in votes takes time. Each ballot has to be sorted, removed from two separate envelopes and scanned.

The City Commissioners Office, which oversees elections in Philadelphia, has spent millions of dollars upgrading equipment in order to count the voters more quickly and efficiently.

Employees have been working 24 hours a day inside a 125,000-square-foot hall at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City, a process that is being live-streamed.

City Commissioner Lisa Deeley leads officials and reporters on a tour Monday, Oct. 26, of a ballot processing facility at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

It was just last year, prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, that Pennsylvania allowed no-excuse mail-in voting.

“We are exactly where we said we would be,” state Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said Wednesday morning.

Boockvar has taken flak from Republicans, including two state senate leaders who called for her immediate resignation Tuesday night.

Senate President Joe Scarnati and Majority Leader Jake Corman criticized a last-minute directive issued by the state asking counties to notify voters whose mail-in ballots were disqualified for minor errors and give them the opportunity to fill out a provisional ballot.

Some counties followed the guidance; others did not act on it; and a few directed political parties to reach out to affected voters, according to the Inquirer.

“There is no basis for this guidance in current law,” Scarnati and Corman said in a statement. “The Secretary created this new process out of thin air.”

It’s currently tied up in court.

The pair also attacked Boockvar for advising counties to count ballots that arrived after 8 p.m. on Election Day. She had asked officials to segregate the envelopes, and Scarnati and Corman said tallying them could result in the late votes getting mixed with on-time ballots.

Republicans have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a state court decision that allows ballots to be counted as long as they arrive by Friday at 5 p.m. and there’s no evidence they were mailed after Election Day.

If a ballot comes in without a postmark or if it is illegible, it should be assumed that the envelope was mailed on or before Tuesday unless a “preponderance of evidence” proves otherwise, according to the state court decision.

The Supreme Court denied a GOP request for an expedited ruling before the election but left the door open that it could decide on the case in the future.

It’s unclear how many votes could be affected if the ruling is overturned.

Wolf, in a statement, referred to Scarnati and Corman’s remarks about Boockvar as “a partisan attack on Pennsylvania’s elections and our votes.”

“Attacks like this are an attempt to undermine confidence in the results of the election, and we should all denounce them for the undemocratic actions they are,” the governor said.

In-person voting, which some feared could be marred by intimidation or even violence, seems to have gone well.

State leaders reported “no widespread significant problems” with the most common issues being lines, late-opening polling places and confusion over provisional ballots.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office Election Task Force said it responded to 68 incidents, all but one of which was resolved. Several matters will require follow-up investigations, officials said.

“Misinformation being shared online drove more calls to the Election Task Force hotline than actual incidents at polling sites,” the DA’s Office said.