Cumberland County won’t start counting mail ballots until after Election Day
Elections officials in Cumberland County, just outside Harrisburg, won’t begin counting mail ballots until the day after Election Day, citing the need to focus their attention and resources on in-person voting next Tuesday.
“The Board of Elections, comprised of the Cumberland County Commissioners, is committed to counting every vote and not certifying the results in Cumberland County until every eligible vote, whether completed at the polling place or via mail-in or absentee ballot, is properly counted,” Gary Eichelberger, chair of the county commissioners, said in a statement Wednesday.
And officials in Erie County, in Northwestern Pennsylvania, plan to only count mail ballots for a few hours late Tuesday night, CNN reported.
More than 117,000 voters have requested mail ballots in the two counties, meaning those votes won’t be reflected in the unofficial results on election night.
The counting of mail ballots has been one of the most contentious, worried-over pieces of this election. With a massive number of mail ballots to count this year — state officials expect about three million votes to be cast by mail — it will take days to get votes counted. And Pennsylvania law prohibits counties from processing ballots before Election Day, meaning election night results will only reflect a fraction of the mail vote.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s false attacks on mail voting have fueled a deep partisan divide on voting methods, with Democrats much more likely to vote by mail than Republicans. That means the in-person election results that make up the bulk of results on election night are likely to skew heavily toward Trump, and then move slowly toward Biden’s favor as mail ballots are counted — a phenomenon known as “the blue shift.”
But the decision by Erie and Cumberland officials means key votes won’t be known on election night. Erie County was one of three that swung from voting for Barack Obama in 2012 to Donald Trump in 2016. Cumberland County is home to some of the politically changing suburbs of Harrisburg and will be one of the areas that will help determine who wins the state.
Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, the state’s top elections official, told reporters Wednesday that she would push counties to count mail ballots on Election Day.
“The sooner they start, the sooner they’ll finish,” she said, though she noted the law does not require Election Day vote-tallying. “We’re going to be urging in every way possible that every county start on Tuesday.”
All while pulling off the biggest changes to Pennsylvania’s electoral system in decades.
“This year obviously is a little bit more extraordinary, dealing with a pandemic on top of a presidential election,” said Randy Padfield, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. “But it’s not insurmountable.”
Supreme Court declines to weigh in — for now — on deadline to return Pa. mail ballots
The Republican Party of Pennsylvania’s attempt to fast-track a potential U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether to overturn Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s extension of the mail ballot deadline was denied Wednesday.
The party’s request to have the court take up the case still remains open, but the court denied the request to expedite the process. That means the court could still take up the case and ultimately reverse the deadline extension, even after Election Day.
Pennsylvania law requires mail ballots to be received by county elections offices by 8 p.m. on Election Day, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last month said ballots can be received by mail until 5 p.m. Nov. 6 if they are either postmarked by Election Day or have missing or illegible postmarks. Republicans challenged that, including in two separate requests that the U.S. Supreme Court step in and immediately block the extension.
The U.S. Supreme Court tied 4-4 last week on whether to grant those emergency requests, meaning they were denied. Democrats have feared that this week’s installation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett could tip the balance on a new request that the state Republican Party filed Friday night, including the request to fast-track the case.
Barrett did not participate in the decision-making process on Wednesday’s decision not to expedite.
The Republican Party argues that the state court’s deadline extension will allow mail ballots to be cast and counted after Election Day, violating federal law setting one national Election Day and usurping the state legislature’s constitutional right to determine the rules for elections. Several of the court’s conservative justices appear willing to back that argument, with Justice Samuel Alito writing Wednesday that “there is a strong likelihood that the State Supreme Court decision violates the Federal Constitution.”
He was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.
And while Alito and the other justices “reluctantly conclude that there is simply not enough time at this late date to decide the question before the election,” they noted that the state had earlier Wednesday told counties to keep late-arriving ballots segregated from ballots arriving before 8 p.m. on Election Day.
That would allow the court to rule later on whether ballots arriving under the deadline extension should be counted; if they are not, they would already be separated and could be thrown out.
Nearly 2 million mail ballots have been returned in Pennsylvania, according to data from the Department of State.
And almost half of the ballots returned thus far —more than 950,000 — were returned in the last week.
More than 3 million mail ballot applications have been processed and mailed to date. And although Tuesday evening was the deadline to apply for a mail ballot, that number could still grow as counties process applications submitted before that deadline.
Of the voters who have requested mail ballots, about 63% of them are registered Democrats, 25% are Republicans, and nearly 12% are unaffiliated or members of other parties.
Pa. officials tell counties to separate mail ballots that arrive after Election Day
As Republicans continue to challenge the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s extension of the mail ballot deadline, state elections officials on Wednesday told counties to keep ballots arriving after Election Day separated from other ballots.
That will allow those ballots to be handled separately from ballots arriving before the Election Day deadline set in law, and prevent them from being counted if a court overturns the deadline extension.
State law requires ballots be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, but the state Supreme Court last month extended the deadline for this election so ballots can be received by mail until 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6 if they are either postmarked by Election Day or have missing or illegible postmarks. The state Republican Party and top Republican state Senators asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block that decision, saying it violates the legislature’s constitutional rights to determine election rules.
The U.S. Supreme Court last week tied 4-4 on those requests, keeping the deadline extension intact. But the Pennsylvania GOP on Friday asked the court to take up the case, and a Republican congressional candidate sued in federal court making a similar argument. And newly installed Justice Amy Coney Barrett could tip the balance in one of the new cases.
“The secretary continues to defend the extension to ensure that every timely and validly cast mail-in and absentee ballot is counted,” reads the new guidance issued Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections. “Because this issue is still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, however, county boards of elections are directed to take the following action to securely segregate mail-in and civilian absentee ballots.”
Ballots received after 8 p.m. on Election Day and before 5 p.m. Friday, which would be counted under the state court’s deadline extension, will be kept separated and should not be processed or counted until the state provides further details, the guidance reads. “These ballots shall be maintained by the county board in a secure, safe, and sealed container separate from other voted ballots.”
Counties were also told to keep a log of those ballots, including the name and address of the voters, the USPS delivery dates, and information on postmarks on the envelope.
Military ballots discarded in Luzerne County can be considered for counting in election
Nine military ballots that authorities said were mistakenly discarded by a contracted elections worker in a Northeastern Pennsylvania county have been linked to specific voters and can be considered for counting in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Luzerne County Manager David Pedri said the ballot envelopes contained identifying information that enabled officials to figure out who cast them.
The ballots will not automatically be tabulated, however. Pedri said the local elections board will give them “close and careful consideration” to make sure they are filled out properly.
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, whose office oversees voting in Pennsylvania, described the discarded ballots as a “bad error” but not a matter of intentional fraud.
A spokeswoman for Boockvar said the Department of State has since provided training for Luzerne County workers about how to open election mail.
Jeff Van Drew walks back ‘undying support’ of Trump
New Jersey Congressman Jeff Van Drew, the former Democrat who defected to the GOP last year and pledged “undying support” to President Trump, seemed to downplay that famous promise in a new interview with CNN.
“I think the words didn’t explain as well what I exactly felt,” Van Drew told CNN’s Rebecca Buck in the interview released Wednesday. “It’s not undying support that, whatever you say I’m going to do, or undying support, I agree with whatever you say. It was undying support for the presidency, for the idea of the greatness of America, for a friendship, but not necessarily that I’m going to agree with everything.”
Van Drew added, “I think voters understand that when you’re in the Oval Office and you’re having a very exciting day and you’re making a little piece of history, that sometimes we all say things.”
Elected a Democrat in 2018, Van Drew is seeking to keep his seat in South Jersey’s closely watched 2nd Congressional District. Challenger Amy Kennedy has greatly outspent him and benefited from support of local Democrats who say Van Drew betrayed them. Van Drew has sought to make the case that he votes independently, rather than along partisan lines.
The comments made to CNN align with what Van Drew said in a meeting with the Inquirer’s editorial board earlier this month, in which he explained “undying support” as meaning that he appreciated the president’s friendship and the warm reception he got when joining the GOP almost a year ago.
“We’re going to disagree once in a while, and that’s okay,” Van Drew said. “As long as you have a good reason for that.”
Union canvassers ‘go out even harder,’ to drive voter turnout after police killing of Walter Wallace Jr.
The day after the second night of protests sparked by the police killing of Walter Wallace, Jr., labor union UNITE HERE hosted a canvassing kickoff in Malcolm X Park to link the fight against police brutality and the movement for Black lives to this year’s election.
“When I see what happened to Walter, I see my grandsons,” said Earlene Bly, a lead canvasser and UNITE HERE staffer. “I see my uncles, my cousins. I see myself. I see all of you who look like me. I see all of us in Walter because we’re all told by this country’s actions that our lives don’t matter.”
Since the beginning of the month, UNITE HERE, which represents 6,000 low-wage service workers in Philadelphia, most of whom were laid off during the pandemic, has sent hundreds of their laid-off members out into low-income, low-turnout neighborhoods to get out the vote for Biden-Harris. The union, which is doing the same in the swing states of Arizona and Florida, says it’s the biggest canvassing operation in Pennsylvania.
Bly said her team of 10 struggled to “find inspiration and strength to get back out there on the doors” after Wallace’s killing. But she said she reminded them, “You’re knocking to save a life."
”I want y’all to remember that," she said to a crowd of more than 100.
Renee Wilson, a laid-off hotel worker who’s been working as a paid canvasser all month, said Wallace’s death infuriated her.
“It’s makin' me go out even harder,” said Wilson, 49.
National Guard may remain mobilized in Philly through Election Day
The Pennsylvania National Guard is expected to remain mobilized in Philadelphia through next week’s election, according to documents obtained by the Inquirer.
In letters sent to employers of activated Guard members, military officials said they anticipate their mission in the city — dubbed “Operation Protect Pennsylvania Pars Tres” — to end Nov. 8.
Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the Guard’s mobilization of hundreds of soldiers on Tuesday in response to unrest that has roiled Philadelphia in the days since the fatal police shooting of William Wallace Jr.
But asked Tuesday whether the Guard would remain as an election security precaution, state and city officials acknowledged that such a deployment had been discussed but not decided upon.
Lt. Col. Keith Hickox, a spokesperson for the Guard, said at the time that should troops remain in the city through the election they would be there solely to provide assistance to local law enforcement and to respond to general civil unrest surrounding the vote. They would not, he said, be involved in monitoring security at polling places per legal restrictions surrounding their activity.
The red-and-blue sticker provided to voters shows a drawing of City Hall and uses the clock as the “O” in the phrase “I VOTED!” and its Spanish equivalent, “YO VOTÉ!”
The sticker was designed by Katie Fish, a student in Temple University’s School of Art and Architecture.
A different sticker will be available for kids, declaring them to be a “FUTURE VOTER” and showing Philly pride with a drawing of the Liberty Bell. That sticker was designed by Mickey Lieberman-Burak, a high school student at Science Leadership Academy.
Elections officials had originally planned to use the new stickers — which they say will stick better than the old ones — in this year’s primary election. As the pandemic disrupted and delayed that election, the rollout of new stickers was put off.
Masks will be recommended — but not required — to vote in Philly
Philadelphia voters who arrive at polling places without masks will be provided them, but voters who refuse to wear them will still be allowed in to vote.
However, those unmasked voters will be required to stay at least six feet from other people at all times and poll workers will try to keep other voters out of the voting site while the unmasked voters are inside.
That’s according to the city’s emergency regulations for COVID-19 safety at polling places on Election Day, which the city commissioners approved at a meeting Wednesday.
Those regulations also require poll workers to wear masks unless they have a medical condition that prevents them from doing so, in which case they must wear face shields or sit behind a plastic barrier and stay six feet from others the entire day. Poll watchers, who are partisan election observers representing political parties and campaigns, must wear masks “at all times in or around a polling place” and will not be allowed into polling places if they are not wearing masks.
Transparent barriers will be set up between poll workers and voters wherever possible to prevent coronavirus transmission during the poll book check-in process, and voters will be urged to stay outside the voting room until they’re actually checking in and voting.
There should be a maximum of 10 people for every 1,000 square feet of space, the regulations say, and poll workers should open doors and windows as much as possible to improve ventilation.
Polling places will have disposable gloves and sanitizer to prevent transmission through shared surfaces, and the total check-in and voting times should be no more than 15 minutes to limit voters' time in the polling place.
City elections officials encourage voters who experience possible COVID-19 symptoms to use an emergency absentee ballot instead of going to the polls, or to call 215-686-1590 to learn their other options. Voters experiencing symptoms won’t be turned away from the polls because it is their right to vote, elections officials said, but they should tell poll workers they are symptomatic.
Pa. voters might face long lines to cast provisional ballots on Election Day, secretary of state warns
Pennsylvania could see lines of voters waiting to use provisional ballots on Election Day but regular in-person votes should be cast smoothly, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said Wednesday.
“What we may see is lines for provisional ballots, which is not something that you usually see,” Boockvar, the state’s top elections official, told reporters. “One of the things we want to talk to counties about is making sure they have adequate space for provisional ballots.”
A law passed last year makes this the first year any Pennsylvania voters can vote by mail, and the pandemic has fueled a massive surge in demand for those ballots. Traditionally, only about 5% of votes were cast by mail — around 226,000 absentee ballots were cast in the 2016 general election, and the state expects around three million to be cast this year.
That means a large number of voters, potentially around half, will be voting by mail and not showing up at polling places, relieving a lot of the pressure on in-person voting.
At the same time, though, voters who request mail ballots and then decide to vote in person will have a more complicated process to do so. Those who bring their ballots and envelopes to the polls will need to surrender them to the lead poll worker, the judge of elections, and sign an affidavit before being allowed to go through the standard process of checking into the poll books and voting on the machines.
Other voters who request mail ballots but don’t bring them to the polls — because they never arrived, or lost them, or for other reasons — will need to use provisional ballots, which are paper ballots set aside and counted only after other ballots are tallied. (That prevents officials from counting both a mail ballot and in-person vote from the same person.) In the primary election, counties saw a significant jump in provisional-ballot usage, with some polling places running out of them and needing to restock partway through the day.
If polling places can set up more than one line and have enough space for provisional ballots to be filled out, Boockvar said, they’ll be able to ensure voters needing provisional ballots won’t create long wait times for voters who never requested mail ballots and are trying to vote on the machines.
“I think ultimately the lines will move faster in that there’ll be so many fewer people, but there are going to be different bottlenecks than there normally are, if that makes sense,” she said. “So the way the polling place is set up is really important in managing that.”
Pa. secretary of state urges voters to drop off ballots in person and not rely on the mail
Voters should not be relying on regular mail delivery to get their mail ballots in at this point, Pennsylvania’s top elections official said Wednesday.
With six days to Election Day, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar urged voters to hand-deliver their ballots at drop boxes or county elections offices.
“Put it in overnight mail to your county election office if you have to,” Boockvar told reporters at an online news conference, “but we really recommend that you drop it off in person. There are more drop-off locations than ever before in Pennsylvania.”
Last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended the state’s 8 p.m. Election Day deadline to say ballots can be received by mail up until 5 p.m. Nov. 6 if they are either postmarked by Nov. 3 or have missing or illegible postmarks. Republicans have challenged that extension, including at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The safest way to ensure a vote is counted, experts said, is still to make sure they arrive by Election Day. And with less than a week to go, the safest option is to drop those ballots off at drop boxes or county elections offices before 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Where Trump and Biden will be campaigning on Wednesday
With six days remaining before Election Day, President Donald Trump is scheduled to hold campaign rallies in Nevada and Arizona, which has emerged as a hotly contested battleground state.
Former Vice President Joe Biden holds a narrow lead over the president in Arizona, according to a FiveThirtyEight average of election polls. Trump won the state by 3.5 percentage points over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election, and the last Democrat to win the state was Bill Clinton in 1996.
Vice President Mike Pence will hold rallies in Wisconsin and Michigan on Wednesday, while Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), will campaign in Arizona, holding events in Tucson and Phoenix.
Here are the campaign surrogates who will be visiting Pennsylvania over the next few days:
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) will travel to Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester Counties on Wednesday on behalf of the Biden campaign.
Doug Emhoff, the husband of Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), is also coming to Pennsylvania on Wednesday for the Biden campaign. Emhoff will travel to Lehigh and Centre Counties, and will encourage students at Penn State to make a plan to vote.
Ivanka Trump, the daughter and special adviser of the president, is scheduled to travel to Waymart in Wayne County on Thursday to take part in a campaign event at 3:30 p.m.
How Biden’s lead is different from Clinton’s — and why the polls are different this time
There’s less than a week until Election Day. Polls show Donald Trump trailing nationally and in key battlegrounds, including Pennsylvania. And behind the scenes there are whispers about Republicans bracing for an electoral wipeout.
On the surface, there’s a lot about the 2020 presidential race that looks like the 2016 contest, when Trump shocked expectations, pollsters, and the media. He might yet do it again.
But there are some key differences this time. Trump is facing an even higher degree of difficulty to pull off another stunner. In fact, there are realistic scenarios in which Democrat Joe Biden wins running away.
Philly-area voters were stuck in long lines as Pa. deadline for mail ballots passed
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 applications and have them 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.
My mom went to the Delco Courthouse in Media for early voting and they just turned away a long line of people, even though they’re supposed to be open until 8pm. Weird that they did this on the last day of early voting in PA. 🤔
Biden is up by 17% over Trump in Wisconsin, according to a new ABC/Washington Post poll. Biden’s growing lead in the Rust Belt swing state state comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Wisconsin have spiked to record levels.