PA election officials warn they likely won’t be done counting ballots election day

Politico reports Pennsylvania could determine the presidency. But it might not be clear for days who won the state on Nov. 3.

Election officials throughout the critical battleground, which is implementing no-excuse mail-in voting for the first time ever amid a pandemic, say they are unlikely to finish counting those ballots the night of the general election.

If the race is close enough — as it was in 2016, when Donald Trump carried the state by only 44,000 votes — that could mean the status of one of the nation’s biggest swing states could remain up in the air long past Election Day.

“My nightmare is that on Election Day in November, you’re waiting for Montgomery County’s results to declare Pennsylvania to declare who wins the White House,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence, a Democrat who chairs the Board of Elections there. “The reality is that all of our counties are going to be in that same situation, and it will take a while to actually count the ballots.”

Less than two weeks away fromPennsylvania’s primary, some state election officials said they lack the funding and staff needed to handle the massive influx of mail-in ballots they’ve received for that race. They also said the fact that they legally can’t start counting those ballots until the morning of Election Day is complicating matters. In addition to delaying a final tally, the chaos and confusion could sow distrust ahead of the general election and give fodder to those seeking to discredit its results.

“I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me so far. They got the wrong party ballot sent to them. They got the wrong district ballot sent to them. And now I’m having people getting multiple ballots sent to them. These are the things that are inevitable when you rush the implementation of mail-in voting like we did here,” said Allegheny County Democratic Councilwoman and election board member Bethany Hallam. “But I’m worried that, if Donald Trump loses in November, do the Republicans use all these examples of errors with mail-in voting as their excuse to invalidate election results?”

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed no-excuse mail-in ballot voting and other reforms into law late last year, making the June 2 primary the first test of those changes. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, election officials expected to have months, if not years, to acclimate voters to the option of voting by mail. Instead, they’ve been forced to transform the system overnight.

In Philadelphia, whose metro area is the most populous part of the state, officials predicted before the pandemic that they would get 70,000 to 90,000 applications for mail-in and absentee ballots in the primary. Through Thursday, with several days to go until the deadline, they had already received about 158,000. They said the previous record, set in a presidential general election, was roughly 23,000.

The deluge has led to a backlog: Officials said last week about 18,000 ballots are still waiting to be sent to city voters.

In Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County, the second biggest county in the state, the situation is worse: It had a backlog of 80,000 ballots last week. It has received more than 225,000 mail-in and absentee ballot applications through Thursday — compared with the 10,000 absentee ballots it gets in a typical presidential primary, officials said,

“We don’t just have a perfect storm. We have perfect storms,” said Republican Al Schmidt, one of the three Philadelphia city commissioners who oversee elections here. “We have new voting technology. We have an election reform that pushed back all the deadlines. And we have mail-in ballots and the pandemic.”

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