Counting Votes in Pennsylvania (Just the Facts)

Truthful, fact-based information is so important – and can be so hard to find in a time when social media gives everyone a microphone, and media comes with its own share of bias. Last year, I covered the Pennsylvania 2016 election results for The Resurgent (if you’re unfamiliar with the political landscape in our state, this piece gives you some background). This year, I’m covering it for myself, for the sake of truth. I’ve done my research and gathered answers to some of the big questions surrounding voting in Pennsylvania.

Why are ballots for Biden coming in big numbers post-Election Day?

There are two things important to understand to answer this question – the first is the current state of the pandemic (bear with me) and the second is Pennsylvania’s election laws.

COVID-19 continues to be a concern for many, but especially for Democrats. I’m not saying COVID-19 is not a public health issue, I’m just stating the facts. Pew Research this summer showed Republicans were already “far more comfortable” resuming their normal activities (like voting in-person at the polls). Democrats, on the other hand, were not. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that the numbers show more than 1.6 million of the returned mail-in ballots were from Democrats (likely Biden voters), 586,000 from Republicans (likely Trump voters), and 278,000 from independents or third-party voters.

At this point, we’ve established that it’s logical that in-person votes would lean heavily for President Trump and mail-in ballots would lean heavily for Biden. But why was President Trump up by such a significant amount so early?

In Pennsylvania, poll workers can only legally begin processing ballots on Election Day. That means any ballots submitted prior to Election Day, couldn’t be opened until Tuesday. Even then, there is no law requiring state to count mail-in ballots on Election Day. While the majority of counties planned to begin counting on Tuesday, there were a few counties who said they didn’t have enough poll workers on Election Day to manage in-person voting and counting mail-in votes. (All this and more from SpotlightPA.)

In addition, the current deadline for mail-in votes in Pennsylvania (more about this in the Q+A below) is postmarked by Nov. 3 AND received no later than Nov. 6. So, that means Pennsylvania is also counting votes as they are received and will continue to do so through Nov. 6.

Is it true some votes in PA may not be counted?

Yes. Normally, under a law known as Act 77, all mail-in ballots need to be received by 8 pm on Election Day. The Pennsylvania Legislature had the ability to extend that deadline, in light of COVID-19 and the anticipation of a significant number of mail-in ballots (and an overwhelmed USPS), but decided against it. However, The Pennsylvania Supreme Court made a few key election decisions back in September that extended the deadline to mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day, AND received no later than three days after that.

The problem is, the Constitution gives state legislatures, not courts, the power to make rules re: federal elections. And Republicans didn’t like the extension of counting votes postmarked by Election Day because remember – mail-in votes lean Biden. So, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania asked The US Supreme Court to hear the case.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to hear the case prior to Election Day, but Justice Alito did acknowledge the case in an opinion he wrote. In that piece, he asked Pennsylvania to separate any ballots received after 8 pm on Election Day (the initial deadline set by the Pennsylvania Legislature), so that if The US Supreme Court decides to hear the case and the decision is reversed, it will be easy to identify the votes that need to be thrown out. Depending on the final count in Pennsylvania, if the race is tight enough, it could change Pennsylvania from red to blue (again going back to the fact that mail-in ballots lean heavily for Biden).

What are poll watchers? Why is PA not letting the Trump Campaign in?

Each political party is able to have poll watchers present to observe counting – the county board of elections can limit to three per political party (at this time, FOX News is reporting 60 per party are being allowed, but I don’t have a source to link online). These poll watchers must be “a qualified registered elector of the county in which the election district is located.” That’s why when the Trump Campaign initially asked to be present, prior to the election, The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied the request – because they were not following the state laws re: poll watchers. Good news – Section 310 of the Election Code (Code), 25 P.S. § 2650 is publicly available with all the details for you to review. (I’m guessing this may be why Pam Bondi, the attorney the Trump Campaign sent to Philadelphia more recently may have not been allowed in immediately.)

Why is it taking so long to count votes in PA?

When the Trump Campaign asked (again) to observe the process, the counting stopped for a few hours until the court granted access to the Trump Campaign. Their poll watchers were then able to stand within six feet of tables, behind a barrier, to observe counting. Unfortunately, according to a city lawyer, that meant the poll workers could only count using a limited number of tables (those within view of the Trump Campaign), slowing the count. After a few hours of going at a slow pace, the city decided to appeal to The Pennsylvania Supreme Court – and, as of the date/time of this post, are now waiting on them to make a decision.

I’ll add something I found interesting – for those skeptics who may say the slow vote counting is a Democratic ploy to get the Trump Campaign out. Al Schmidt, city commissioner and a Republican on the elections board, was asked about the impact of the Trump Campaign on the counting and is quoted as saying: “What we know is it’s certainly two hours later than it would have been. So that’s two hours lost,” he said.

I hope once you’ve had a chance to read this piece you’ll consider sharing it. Together, we can ensure truth prevails.

-Elizabeth Greenaway, The Petite Patriot

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