Philadelphia Expects to Need Several Days to Count Mail Ballots

Philadelphia officials said Monday it “will easily take several days” to count the city’s large number of mail-in ballots, potentially delaying statewide election results from Pennsylvania that could decide a close presidential race.

Mayor Jim Kenney and Commissioner Lisa Deeley noted in an open letter to city voters that counties in Pennsylvania can’t start processing mail-in and absentee ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day — guaranteeing there will be ballots left to count after election night.

They said more than 400,000 mail-in ballots had been received so far in Philadelphia, the commonwealth’s most-populous county, where three-quarters of registered voters are Democrats.

“This may determine the outcome in Philadelphia, and in the commonwealth as a whole,” Kenney and Deeley said in their letter, urging patience.

Pennsylvania, which Trump won by only 44,292 votes in 2016, has the highest chance of any state of being the tipping point in the presidential race, according to the FiveThirtyEight website.

Democrats are concerned that President Donald Trump will declare victory with an election-night lead, based on the strength of Republican in-person voting on Election Day, and may seek to delegitimize and challenge the outstanding mail ballots that favor Democrats.

Trump’s Accusations

“It’s a terrible thing when people are — when states are allowed to calculate ballots for a long period of time after the election is over,” Trump told reporters on Sunday. “A lot of fraud and misuse can take place.”

Trump has said “bad things happen in Philadelphia” while suggesting, without evidence, that there’s massive voter fraud. His campaign has fought the city seeking to have poll watchers allowed in satellite election offices, and has videotaped voters at drop boxes.

While results from the mailed ballots won’t been known until they’re counted, Pennsylvania keeps track of the party affiliation of those who request them. Of the more than 2.4 million ballots returned statewide as of Sunday, Democrats accounted for 66% compared with 23% from Republicans, according to Department of State data.

Election experts say it’s normal and not a sign of a problem if states are still counting ballots after election night, including those from members of the military and Americans who live overseas, which are counted if they arrive after the election in many states.

Time-Consuming Process

Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that she expects the “overwhelming majority of ballots” in the commonwealth “will be counted within a matter of days.” Boockvar, a Democrat, said many larger counties, including Philadelphia, have bought new equipment and plan to keep counting for 24 hours a day.

But other counties aren’t, and several don’t plan to even start the time-consuming process of opening envelopes, flattening, scanning and counting mail-in and absentee ballots until Wednesday. Pennsylvania expanded mail-in voting last year and counties pleaded for time to process ballots early, but state Democratic and Republican leaders couldn’t agree on a deal.

There may also be other outstanding ballots after the election because Pennsylvania Republicans challenged a state Supreme Court ruling allowing ballots mailed before the election to be counted if they are received within three days after Nov. 3, and Boockvar directed counties to segregate any such late-arriving ballots for a potential legal challenge.

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