7:13 PM - October 27, 2020
7:13 PM - October 27, 2020

Voters remain in line as Pa. deadline for mail ballots passes

As Pennsylvania’s deadline to apply for mail ballots passed at 5 p.m. Tuesday, voters remained in hours-long lines at election offices in the Philadelphia region in hopes of getting their ballots.

State law requires mail ballot applications to be submitted by 5 p.m. So to respond to the large turnout and long lines, election officials in some counties handed out mail ballot applications to the voters in line as the 5 p.m. deadline approached.

In Chester County, for example, election officials told voters they could fill out an application and have it time stamped before 5 p.m., and then either wait in line to receive and fill out a ballot Tuesday evening or return Wednesday to pick it up.

Philadelphia and Montgomery counties followed similar procedures.

In Philadelphia, officials allowed voters to apply for ballots as long as they were in line by 5 p.m., and passed out applications to those in line.

“We still intend to process [applications] for all who were in line by 5 p.m., and the offices will remain open until they are served,” said Kevin Feeley, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia City Commissioners, who run elections.

Still, the process led to some confusion.

Voters complained on social media in Delaware County that they were turned away while the election office was supposed to be open until 8 p.m. — but the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline had come and gone.

The satellite election offices around the region allow voters to apply for mail ballots, fill them out, and return them all in one stop.

Laura McCrystal, Jonathan Lai

4:49 PM - October 27, 2020
4:49 PM - October 27, 2020

Melania Trump campaigns for her husband in Chester County

First Lady Melania Trump speaks during a campaign rally on Tuesday, in Atglen, Chester County.
Laurence Kesterson / AP
First Lady Melania Trump speaks during a campaign rally on Tuesday, in Atglen, Chester County.

First Lady Melania Trump spoke of her experience having the coronavirus as she made her first solo trip for her husband’s reelection campaign Tuesday to Chester County.

“Like many of you, I have experienced the first hand effects of COVID-19 not only as a patient, but as a worried mother and wife,” she said, speaking in Atglen, a borough in the western part of the state.

Contradicting her husband, who openly mocks masks and other coronavirus restrictions, she advised the crowd to take the pandemic seriously.

“Please remember to follow CDC guidelines to that together we can minimize the spread of the virus until a vaccine can be developed,” she said.

Trump also noted that she often disagrees with the tone of her husband’s tweets, but made the case for his reelection and defended his record as president.

“I do not always agree with the way he says things,” she said. “But is is important to hear that he speaks directly to the people he serves.”

She told the crowd that the media does not focus on the positive things in the country and in the White House.

“There is so much love and compassion happening but oftentimes it does not make the news,” she said.

Laura McCrystal

4:06 PM - October 27, 2020
4:06 PM - October 27, 2020

1.8 million mail ballots have been returned in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania voters have returned more than 1.8 million mail ballots to their county election offices as of Tuesday, according to data provided by the Pennsylvania Department of State.

More than 127,000 ballots were marked as returned Monday, and more than 947,000 were returned in the last week.

Tuesday is the last day for voters to request mail ballots, and more than 3 million applications have been processed. That number is likely to grow in the coming days as applications made in the final few days before Tuesday’s deadline are processed.

Of the total ballot applications processed, 63% have been from Democrats, while 25% have been from Republicans and 11% from members of other parties or unaffiliated voters.

Explore ballot requests by county using this interactive chart:

Laura McCrystal

3:12 PM - October 27, 2020
3:12 PM - October 27, 2020

Officials considering deploying National Guard troops to Philly ahead of election

Pennsylvania National Guard near the front of City Hall and Municipal Services Building back in June, following protests over the killing of George Floyd.
Staff Photographer
Pennsylvania National Guard near the front of City Hall and Municipal Services Building back in June, following protests over the killing of George Floyd.

State and city officials are considering a deployment of National Guard troops to Philadelphia to provide security in the face of potential civil unrest tied to next week’s election, Mayor Jim Kenney said Tuesday.

Speaking at a news conference, Kenney acknowledged he and Gov. Tom Wolf had discussed a potential Guard mobilization but he did not say whether any definitive decisions have been made or, if a deployment were to occur, what role Guardsmen might play.

The Mayor’s Office did not immediately respond to requests to clarify Kenney’s comments. And spokespersons for the governor, the Pennsylvania National Guard and the state Department of Military and Veteran’s Affairs did not respond to requests for comment.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw also raised the possibility that Guardsmen could be called in to provide mutual assistance in response to the ongoing unrest after police fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr. in West Philadelphia on Monday. Their mission, she said, could commingle with any election-related mobilization.

“I think we need be realistic that just given the proximity in time, there may be some bleeding together,” she said.

— Jeremy Roebuck and Laura McCrystal

2:40 PM - October 27, 2020
2:40 PM - October 27, 2020

Pa. congresswoman introduces new legislation to expand voting drop boxes

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon of Philadelphia's 5th congressional district, speaking earlier this month about why Congress should provide funding to support the U.S. Postal Service.
Ellie Rushing
Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon of Philadelphia's 5th congressional district, speaking earlier this month about why Congress should provide funding to support the U.S. Postal Service.

A Pennsylvania congresswoman wants to change federal law so that states are required to make drop boxes more accessible to voters in future federal elections.

U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, a Democrat who represents Delaware County and South Philadelphia, introduced legislation on Tuesday that would require counties to provide at least one drop box per 15,000 voting age residents.

“We have an obligation to do everything in our power to remove barriers to the ballot box so that all eligible voters can make their voices heard,” Scanlon said in a statement.

Scanlon is hoping the legislation would be taken up by the next Congress. If Democrats keep the House, take control of the Senate, and win the White House, expanding voting rights would likely be a top priority.

When Democrats took control of the House following the 2018 midterm elections, the first legislation they passed — H.R. 1 — was an omnibus elections bill that sought to make voting more accessible.

Scanlon’s proposal comes after a federal judge rejected a lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign against Pennsylvania election officials that sought to block the use of drop boxes to collect mail ballots. Counties say the drop boxes are needed to help voters safely cast their mail ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, and they provide a method for voters to return their ballots without relying on — or worrying about — Postal Service delivery times.

The judge said the campaign had failed to show the drop boxes would lead to fraud.

The legislation was co-sponsored by two Democrats in Texas, where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order limiting the number of drop boxes to one per county, resulting in the closing of multiple satellite locations. The Texas Supreme Court is reviewing the order.

Scanlon’s office didn’t have a cost estimate for the legislation but said a federal funding mechanism would likely be determined by the next Congress.

Setting up drop boxes for every 15,000 voting age residents would require 83 in Philadelphia alone. That is about the total number of drop boxes in the entire state right now. Philadelphia has 11 drop boxes, funded by a $10 million private grant.

Andrew Seidman, Jonathan Lai

2:13 PM - October 27, 2020
2:13 PM - October 27, 2020

Luzerne County Board of Elections asks Barrett to recuse herself from mail ballot deadline case

President Donald Trump looks toward new Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett Monday night at the White House.
Patrick Semansky / AP
President Donald Trump looks toward new Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett Monday night at the White House.

The Luzerne County Board of Elections is asking newly installed Justice Amy Coney Barrett to recuse herself from a case in which the state Republican Party is trying to overturn the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s extension of the mail ballot deadline.

The new justice’s participation, the county elections officials wrote in a filing Tuesday at the U.S. Supreme Court, would be seen as biased toward President Donald Trump, who nominated her and urged her quick confirmation to the court. That perceived bias would violate the constitutional rights to due process, the elections officials said, as well as the laws around federal judges' impartiality.

“Any action on these which includes Justice Barrett’s participation could be catastrophic to the delicate foundation of integrity and public confidence upon which the judiciary sits,” the elections board said. If Barrett is involved in a case and seen as improperly tipping the scales, the board wrote, “The impact would be something from which the Court would not soon recover.”

Luzerne is a key county in the battleground state, and is one of three Pennsylvania counties that swung from voting from former President Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016.

Pennsylvania law requires mail ballots to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, but the state Supreme Court last month ordered ballots to be counted if they are received by mail up to 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6 and are either postmarked by Election Day or have missing or illegible postmarks.

Republicans asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and block that order, saying it violates the state legislature’s constitutional rights to determine how elections are conducted. The eight justices at the time tied 4-4 last week, denying the request to intervene but setting up a delicate balance in which the four most conservatives justices were willing to block the deadline extension.

The state Republican Party late Friday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case and overturn the state Supreme Court’s order. Now, on Barrett’s first day on the job, she’s being asked to recuse herself from the case.

It’s unclear what effect the new court could have in this election. Democrats' nightmare that Barrett helps pick the president out of a Pennsylvania election case has a low — but not zero — chance of happening, experts said.

—Jonathan Lai

12:00 PM - October 27, 2020
12:00 PM - October 27, 2020

In Pennsylvania, safest bet is to mail back your election ballot today or hand-deliver it to a drop box

Dan West, of King of Prussia, uses the secure ballot drop box location for the 2020 election in Norristown, Pa. on October 13, 2020. The site is located in the far corner of the Airy Street parking lot.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Dan West, of King of Prussia, uses the secure ballot drop box location for the 2020 election in Norristown, Pa. on October 13, 2020. The site is located in the far corner of the Airy Street parking lot.

Tuesday marks two key deadlines for Pennsylvania voters: It’s the last day to request a mail ballot, and it’s the unofficial last day they should mail their ballots back.

The United States Postal Service has consistently said that voters should mail their ballots back at least a week before the deadline. And while the Pennsylvania supreme Court extended the mail ballot deadline last month so ballots can be received until the Friday after Election Day, that extension is being challenged, including at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The safest course of action, elections officials and experts say, is to return your ballot as soon as possible and get it in by Election Day. That way, if the extension is overturned, your ballot would still be counted because it arrived by the Election Day deadline set by state law.

That means — using Election Day as the deadline and following the USPS guidance — Tuesday is the last day voters should place their ballots in the mail.

They can still mail their ballots back afterward, of course, but they run the risk of those ballots arriving after the deadline and not being counted. And missing the deadline is one of the most common reason ballots are rejected, and tens of thousands of ballots arrived after Election Day in the June 2 primary. (In fact, there was a clear drop in vote-by-mail return rate beginning three weeks before Election Day.)

A safer option: Voters can hand-deliver their ballots instead of mailing them. Ballots can be dropped off at standalone ballot drop boxes or at county elections offices, including the satellite elections offices some counties have set up. Ballots returned at a drop box or elections office must be dropped off by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Voters who have not yet requested mail ballots have just hours to do so — the deadline is 5 p.m. Tuesday. Ballots can be requested online or in person at a county elections office. If done in person, voters can have the ballot printed on demand and even fill it out and submit it in one go, a form of “early voting.”

— Jonathan Lai

11:30 AM - October 27, 2020
11:30 AM - October 27, 2020

Could the election in Pennsylvania be decided by Amy Coney Barrett? Probably not.

President Donald Trump and newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett stand on the Blue Room Balcony of the White House on Monday.
Patrick Semansky / AP
President Donald Trump and newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett stand on the Blue Room Balcony of the White House on Monday.

Could the U.S. Supreme Court end up deciding the winner of the 2020 election? And could it come down to Pennsylvania?

Probably not.

So many things would have to happen for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the presidential election based on a case coming out of Pennsylvania.

First, the election would have to come down to Pennsylvania. That may very well not happen if the race continues on its current trajectory, with former Vice President Joe Biden consistently leading in polls of numerous battleground states.

Second, the race in Pennsylvania itself would have to be extremely close, with enough votes subject to challenge to make a difference in the outcome.

Third, a case would have to make its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the court would have to agree to hear it. Lawsuits don’t just magically appear before the high court, and the process to get there could resolve issues long before then.

“We have to start from a baseline that all of the doomsday scenarios are low probability. And perhaps that will mitigate some of the freaking out,” said Franita Tolson, a law professor at the University of Southern California whose specialties include election and constitutional law.

— Jonathan Lai

9:45 AM - October 27, 2020
9:45 AM - October 27, 2020

Trump continues to target Philadelphia

President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that Philadelphia “must have poll watchers,” continuing to target the city in a months-long attack on the election process as somehow fraudulent or illegitimate.

The tweet came a day after a three-stop campaigning blitz of Pennsylvania in which he said told supporters to “be vigilant and watch” the election and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

Trump has put the city and state at the center of his false attacks on the election, with poll watchers — who are partisan election observers at polling places — a particular focus.

Poll watchers are clearly defined under state law. They must be certified to represent a political party or campaign and follow specific rules. For example, they are not supposed to interact with voters directly or to engage in electioneering.

Last month, Trump said his poll workers had been blocked from early voting sites in Philadelphia. But those sites are really county elections offices where voters can request, receive, fill out, and submit mail ballots on demand. They’re not polling places as defined by state law; they have no poll workers, voters don’t sign into poll books; there are no voting machines being used.

The campaign sued the city to demand access. A Philadelphia judge rejected the campaign’s arguments, and the Commonwealth Court last week agreed that there were no poll watcher rights at elections offices.

The Trump campaign has also repeatedly sought to overturn the state law’s requirement that poll watchers work only in the county where they live. Arguing that this unfairly disadvantages parties in places where the number of voters is heavily stacked for the other side — such as Philadelphia, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly seven to one — the campaign challenged the law in 2016 and again this year.

State and federal courts disagreed, and the residency requirement remains.

— Jonathan Lai

8:30 AM - October 27, 2020
8:30 AM - October 27, 2020

Wolf’s office calls out Trump’s ‘patently untrue' remarks about Philadelphia, voting, and COVID-19

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a news conference about the coronavirus in Philadelphia's Franklin Square on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a news conference about the coronavirus in Philadelphia's Franklin Square on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s office said President Donald Trump’s comments about voting, including a suggestion of “strange things happening in Philadelphia," were baseless and inaccurate.

Trump, speaking during a rally in Allentown on Monday, falsely claimed Wolf himself would be counting ballots (he won’t) and reiterated, without evidence, his claims that the increased use of mail ballots will lead to widespread voter fraud.

Wolf spokeswoman Sara Goulet told the Morning Call Trump’s attacks on the integrity of the election were baseless and “an insult to the thousands of state and county employees across Pennsylvania who are diligently preparing for an efficient and accurate vote count.”

Goulet also said Trump’s remarks about Pennsylvania remaining “shut down” by COVID-19 restrictions was “patently untrue.”

“The commonwealth has been open for months with common sense mitigation efforts like mask-wearing in place,” Goulet told the newspaper. “The president may not agree with science, but that is what Pennsylvania is using to guide decisions to save lives, not giving in to the virus and encouraging people to gather unprotected and risk their lives and the lives of those around them.”

— Rob Tornoe

8:00 AM - October 27, 2020
8:00 AM - October 27, 2020

What we will and won’t know on election night in Pennsylvania

An “I voted today” sticker rests on a subway grate outside the early voting location at the Liacouras Center on Monday.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
An “I voted today” sticker rests on a subway grate outside the early voting location at the Liacouras Center on Monday.

Things could get very, very weird on election night.

After polls close at 8 p.m. in Pennsylvania, the first results that come in could make it look like former Vice President Joe Biden is winning in a landslide. But then the numbers could start to shift, and by the end of the night, President Donald Trump could look like he’s the one winning big. Then, in the days afterward, vote tallies could slowly turn back in Biden’s favor.

All this means we may or may not know who actually won Pennsylvania — or the White House — on Nov. 3. It could be a jarring change for Americans who have long since become accustomed to going to bed knowing the winner.

Don’t panic. Here’s how to understand what we will and won’t know on Election Day, and why.

— Jonathan Lai

7:45 AM - October 27, 2020
7:45 AM - October 27, 2020

Who can and can’t deliver your mail ballot in Pa.

An unidentified worker organizes ballots, during a media tour highlighting the preparations for the sorting and counting of mail-in ballots at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Election Day. Mayor Kenney join the tour Monday.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
An unidentified worker organizes ballots, during a media tour highlighting the preparations for the sorting and counting of mail-in ballots at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Election Day. Mayor Kenney join the tour Monday.

On its face, it seems harmless. A family member, friend, or volunteer from a community group offers to take your ballot to a drop box or county office, maybe because you don’t have a car or have trouble getting around on your own.

But in most cases in Pennsylvania, so-called “ballot harvesting” is illegal. Only a voter can mail their ballot or return it in person, unless they have a disability and officially designate someone to do it for them. A violation could land you a misdemeanor with up to a year in jail or as much as a $1,000 fine.

Much of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric this election season has centered around falsely claiming that adding more voting sites — including drop boxes like the ones installed in some Pennsylvania counties — would lead to widespread voter fraud. The Trump campaign has gone so far as to videotape Philadelphia voters depositing multiple ballots in drop boxes, The New York Times reported.

In response, a solicitor for Philadelphia noted that, while third-party delivery is generally prohibited, “voters who require assistance delivering their ballot may appoint an agent to do so.”

— Marie Albiges for Spotlight PA

7:30 AM - October 27, 2020
7:30 AM - October 27, 2020

Tuesday morning roundup: Long lines to vote in Philly