9:08 PM - October 29, 2020
9:08 PM - October 29, 2020

Pa. Democrats enter the homestretch fearing the Supreme Court will throw out votes

Pennsylvania Democrats are increasingly alarmed that the U.S. Supreme Court might intervene to throw out mail ballots that arrive after Election Day, after three conservative justices on the high court this week held open the possibility of reversing a state court ruling that extended the deadline for returning them.

Meanwhile, several Pennsylvania counties have said they won’t begin counting mail ballots until the day after Election Day, increasing the likelihood that early returns that night could give a misleading impression of the vote, since Democrats are voting far more heavily by mail. In some counties, their votes may not be tallied until Nov. 4.

And the prospect of a days-long day delay before a fuller picture of the results is known, Democrats fear, will open a window for Trump to prematurely declare victory as public perceptions harden around incomplete tallies.

Some Pennsylvania Democrats sound increasingly confident Joe Biden will have the votes to win the battleground state — and with it, likely the presidency.

But one of Biden’s closest allies in Pennsylvania worried Thursday that an unrestrained Trump or a newly reshaped Supreme Court could dismiss or thwart ballots voters had cast under the current deadline, and potentially secure a second term for the president.

“That’s my number-one concern,” Sen. Bob Casey, one of Pennsylvania’s most senior Democrats and, like Biden, a Scranton native, said in an interview. “All of these ballot issues, whether it’s by way of litigation or by way of the president engaging in conduct that might be unlawful. He’s not constrained by the law, he’s not constrained by convention or deference to institutions.”

The U.S. Supreme Court, in deciding Wednesday not to fast-track a Republican effort to strike down the state Supreme Court’s ruling extending the deadline by three days, did not address the merits of the case — only whether it could be decided before Election Day.

— Jonathan Tamari, Andrew Seidman, Julia Terruso, and Jonathan Lai

6:59 PM - October 29, 2020
6:59 PM - October 29, 2020

Some Pa. voters still haven’t received their mail ballots yet — and they’re getting nervous

Hundreds of voters wait in line to apply for mail ballots at the Delaware County Bureau of Elections Voter Service Center in Media.
RACHEL WISNIEWSKI / For the Inquirer
Hundreds of voters wait in line to apply for mail ballots at the Delaware County Bureau of Elections Voter Service Center in Media.

Haverford College junior David Edelman has helped dozens of fellow students apply for and cast mail ballots as part of a nonpartisan get-out-the-vote program led by his political science professor this year.

But he hasn’t yet voted himself, because Edelman — like an untold number of Pennsylvanians growing increasingly anxious as Election Day draws closer — still hasn’t received his mail ballot.

“I hope it doesn’t affect the outcome of the election, but I also would really like the counties to be able to process things faster so that we don’t have to worry about this,” said Edelman, 20, who applied for a mail ballot from Delaware County in early October.

Almost all outstanding ballots will likely reach voters in the coming days, county elections officials said. And even for those voters who never receive their requested ballots, there are options for them to vote.

“To be clear, we have not heard of a widespread problem with respect to this issue,” said Kevin Feeley, spokesperson for the Philadelphia City Commissioners, which run the city’s elections.

That hasn’t allayed the concerns of some voters who are still waiting on their ballots. Roxborough resident Johnny Osborne, 50, said he has been constantly refreshing the status of his mail ballot on the state’s election website.

“I’m a little anxious because it’s a very important election,” said Osborne, who plans to vote for Joe Biden. “Whoever wins is going to change the course of the country.”

— Sean Collins Walsh

5:50 PM - October 29, 2020
5:50 PM - October 29, 2020

Eagles will host drive-thru ballot drop box at stadium

The Philadelphia Eagles are partnering with the City Commissioners to host a mail ballot drop-off site in the parking lot of Lincoln Financial Field.

The drop box will be available only on Saturday and Monday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Voters must remain in their cars and wear masks, the City Commissioners said in a news release.

Eagles cheerleaders and Swoop, the team’s mascot, will be present to greet voters.

The drop off will be in parking lot K at the stadium, which can be accessed from 11th Street near Pattison Avenue.

— Laura McCrystal

4:25 PM - October 29, 2020
4:25 PM - October 29, 2020

Biden leads Trump in Pa. by 7 percentage points, according to new poll

Joe Biden retains a solid lead over President Donald Trump in Pennsylvania less than a week from Election Day, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.

Biden leads Trump by 7 percentage points, 51%-44%, among likely voters in the battleground state, the survey found. In the four polls Quinnipiac has taken in the last two months, Trump has yet to exceed 44%. Biden hasn’t dipped below 51% support in those polls.

“As the pressure builds and both campaigns circle their wagons around Pennsylvania, Joe Biden holds onto his lead as Donald Trump hopes to recreate his 2016 win there,” said Mary Snow, a polling analyst at Quinnipiac University. “What’s working to Biden’s advantage is his ability to stay above 50 percent support, and that voters like him better than they do Trump.”

A majority of likely voters polled had a favorable opinion of Biden, while a majority had an unfavorable opinion of Trump.The survey of 1,324 likely Pennsylvania voters was conducted Oct. 23-27. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

— Andrew Seidman

4:15 PM - October 29, 2020
4:15 PM - October 29, 2020

Philly City Council votes to affirm residents' right to protest

In anticipation of demonstrations after Election Day, Philadelphia City Council unanimously approved a resolution Thursday affirming residents' First Amendment right to protest.

Councilmember Kendra Brooks said she introduced the resolution last week because she is concerned about President Donald Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election. Resistance as a means of protecting democracy and may be important after Election Day, she said.

“We have a reason to suspect that this right is under attack,” Brooks said.

Brooks said her resolution is also important in the wake of the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr., as Trump says he is willing to send in federal law enforcement officers to stop protests.

“The city we live in is different than the one we lived in just a week ago when I introduced this resolution,” Brooks said. “No one messes with Philly. We are grieving, we are hurting, but we are strong.”

— Laura McCrystal

3:21 PM - October 29, 2020
3:21 PM - October 29, 2020

Cumberland County stands by decision to start counting mail ballots after Election Day

Cumberland County officials are standing by their decision to not begin processing mail ballots until the morning after Election Day, citing security and space limitations.

But the commissioners' statements at Thursday’s meeting contradicted information from state officials; Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said Thursday that the state is helping Cumberland County find a larger space or set up a livestream to accommodate party observers.

During an at-times tense meeting of the board of elections Thursday, commissioners said that decision was influenced by the Pennsylvania legislature’s failure to pass a bill to allow pre-canvassing before Nov. 3 and by new guidance from the state concerning party observers on Election Day.

“We are at the end of the decision chain here. We are playing the hand we are dealt. And it’s not been the greatest hand, plus the cards keep changing,” Commissioner Gary Eichelberger said.

Nearly 47,000 voters have returned a mail ballot to the county, while nearly 60,000 people requested one. The central Pennsylvania county made national news after announcing Wednesday it wouldn’t begin processing those votes until Nov. 4, fueling fears that a delayed result could allow misinformation to flourish. The three commissioners, two Republicans and one Democrat, heard those concerns but also defended their decision.

County officials said they were not able to find an Election Day space large enough to accommodate both poll workers and partisan poll watchers during the canvassing process while ensuring they maintain a proper distance.

Commissioners said there will be fewer voters around after Nov. 3 and less concern that poll workers, watchers, election officials, or judges will become infected with the coronavirus. They are confident the county will have a final tally by Friday, Nov. 6.

“We have to allow members of the public to watch that pre-canvass,” Commissioner Jean Foschi said. “There are a lot of other things going on,” in the area where workers count ballots on Election Day, including sensitive conversations about election security and voter information.

— Cynthia Fernandez of Spotlight PA

3:00 PM - October 29, 2020
3:00 PM - October 29, 2020

Pa. reaching out to five counties that plan to count mail ballots late, secretary of state says

Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar.

As Election Day approaches, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said voters can be confident that they’ll be able to vote safely, and that every vote will be counted.

But they also acknowledged they’re still scrambling to ensure voters understand how to properly submit mail ballots — and to get counties to stick to the law when it comes to how they collect mail ballots and when they begin counting them.

“We know we’re going to have more provisional ballot voting this year than before,” Boockvar said — referencing the last-resort paper ballots that will be available to voters who are unable to vote by mail or voting machine.

The state is contacting about five counties that have said they won’t begin counting mail ballots until Wednesday Nov. 4, Boockvar said. “We’re going to be having a conversation with every county that says they’ll be waiting until after Tuesday,” she said. In Cumberland County, where the election officials said they planned to delay canvassing of ballots due to space constraints, the state is helping them find a larger space or set up a livestream so that party observers can be accommodated.

The state also warned Butler County to stop checking IDs and signatures for those dropping off mail ballots. “We’re making it very clear that’s not authorized,” Boockvar said.

While the officials expect Election Day to go smoothly, they acknowledged that the counting process could be protracted. In response, the state’s site will list not just returns but also the number of mail ballots that remain to be counted in each county.

— Samantha Melamed

2:06 PM - October 29, 2020
2:06 PM - October 29, 2020

Groups descend on Philly to hire canvassers

Renee Wilson, laid off hotel worker and survivor of COVID-19 canvasses the 2800 block of Hancock Street in North Philadelphia to promote the Biden/Harris ticket on Oct. 12. The effort is part of a program by Philadelphia union UNITE HERE.
AVI STEINHARDT
Renee Wilson, laid off hotel worker and survivor of COVID-19 canvasses the 2800 block of Hancock Street in North Philadelphia to promote the Biden/Harris ticket on Oct. 12. The effort is part of a program by Philadelphia union UNITE HERE.

Political organizations have descended on Philadelphia to hire canvassers in the weeks before the election.

The jobs pay at least $18 an hour, offer 40 hours of work a week until the election, and provide PPE, according to dozens of job listings on Craigslist. That’s compared to a retail or fast-food job during the pandemic, which generally pay closer to the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, rarely guarantee steady hours, and require indoor work.

“Perfect opportunity for displaced service industry workers who need to make money now!” reads one ad from At Scale, which describes itself on its website as “a leading Democratic operation, organizing and management firm based in Washington, D.C.

Some hiring ads focus on candidates and specific issues, such as an organization called Vote Blue that says it “cares about climate change, racial equity, and expanding access to health care” and another called Paladin Industries that is hiring workers to hang Trump fliers.

Others are thin on detail.

“Work on an important campaign in your community and make a difference nationwide!” says one posted two weeks ago from an organization that calls itself “Philadelphia Votes” though it does not say what campaign and provides no information other than a phone number that’s now down.

On a recent day in Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia, a group that a worker identified as “Philadelphia Votes” trained dozens of canvassers and passed our bright green safety vests before sending them out to talk to voters, while a Democratic canvassing group called For Our Future readied its workers in another corner of the park. Meanwhile, recruiters who said they worked for At Scale were on the 54 bus in North Philly Monday holding clipboards and asking riders if anyone was interested in a door-knocking job that paid $18 an hour.

A canvassing job flier handed out in Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia.
Handout
A canvassing job flier handed out in Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia.

These efforts join other canvassing programs in Philadelphia launched this month by local unions, such as UNITE HERE and SEIU, which are paying hundreds of members to get out the vote for Biden in low-turnout areas.

— Juliana Reyes

1:40 PM - October 29, 2020
1:40 PM - October 29, 2020

Sen. Casey: My 'number one concern’ is Pennsylvania votes being thrown out after election night

Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) attends a memorial service at the Flight 93 National Memorial on Sept. 11, 2020 in Shanksville, Pa.
Gene J. Puskar / AP
Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) attends a memorial service at the Flight 93 National Memorial on Sept. 11, 2020 in Shanksville, Pa.

Sen. Bob Casey said it would be “a travesty” if some Pennsylvanian’s votes are thrown out after the election as he reacted to statements this week from three conservative justice on the newly reshaped U.S. Supreme Court.

Casey, a Democrat and close ally of fellow Scrantonian Joe Biden, raised those concerns after the justices suggested they could review Pennsylvania’s mail ballot deadline after the election, but he also pointed to President Donald Trump’s wider conduct.

“That’s my number one concern. All of these ballot issues, whether it’s by way of litigation or by way of the president engaging in conduct that might be unlawful. He’s not constrained by the law, he’s not constrained by convention or deference to institutions,” Casey said in an interview Thursday. “All of that is a concern when you have a majority on the U.S. Supreme Court that became a lot more right wing.”

After Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation Monday, three of the court’s nine justices have been appointed by Trump, who has said he expects the election results to end up at the high court and who has specifically raised baseless claims of voting fraud in Philadelphia, a Democratic stronghold.

The most salient issue of the moment is around Pennsylvania Republicans' fight against a state Supreme Court decision allowing mail ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day but arrive up to three days later. The state Supreme Court ordered that change due to the coronavirus pandemic and disruption to normal voting, though Republicans point out that state law requires mail ballots to be received on Election Day.

On Wednesday U.S. Supreme Court justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch issued a statement indicating that even after Election Day they might be sympathetic to Republican attempts to throw out mail ballots that arrive after that day, Nov. 3.

“Which would be a travesty and I think would potentially undermine the will of the people,” Casey said. “If someone fills out a ballot and puts it in a secrecy envelope … and it’s postmarked on Election Day, they in my view, it’s my view they have voted.”

But Casey said he’s hopeful there will be enough information on Election Night to determine who is likely to win Pennsylvania, and perhaps even have news organizations “call” the race. Those calls are typically based on vote counts that can be extrapolated to the rest of the state.

Casey said Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh and the second-most-populous county in the state, may have its count complete Election Night, and that if results come in from a number of smaller counties with fewer votes to tally, there might be enough data to project a winner.

“If you get a collection of counties where you have a pretty high percentage of the vote in, I think you’re going to be able to make a determination,” Casey said.

That would likely depend on one candidate having a significant lead, however. Pennsylvania’s results will not be complete that night — some counties won’t even start counting mail ballots until the next day — and if the results are close it could take days to know the winner.

— Jonathan Tamari

12:30 PM - October 29, 2020
12:30 PM - October 29, 2020

Pennsylvania struggles with how — or if — to help voters fix their mail ballots

A worker sorts Chester County mail ballots.
Margo Reed / Philadelphia Inquirer
A worker sorts Chester County mail ballots.

Officials across Pennsylvania are trying to help voters fix mail ballots that would otherwise be disqualified because of technical mistakes in completing them, creating a patchwork of policies around how — or even whether — people are notified and given a chance to make their votes count.

Some counties are marking those ballots as received, the same as any other ballot, which gives voters no indication there’s a problem. Some are marking them as canceled, as the state says to do, which sends voters warning emails and updates the online ballot status tool, but doesn’t notify voters without email addresses on file.

Still others try to reach voters directly, including by mail, phone, or email — and at least one county mails the actual flawed ballots back to voters.

— Jonathan Lai

10:40 AM - October 29, 2020
10:40 AM - October 29, 2020

More than 2 million Pennsylvania voters have returned their mail ballots

More than 2 million Pennsylvania voters have returned mail ballots to county election offices, according to state data released Thursday.

Almost 3.1 million voters have submitted applications for mail ballots, or about one-third of the state’s 9 million registered voters. Democrats are requesting mail ballots at far greater rates than Republicans. About 63% of mail ballot applications have been submitted by Democrats, compared to 25% by Republicans, and 12% by voters unaffiliated with either party.

County election officials have mailed ballots to the vast majority of those who have requested them.

A total of 2,112,991 ballots have been returned to county election offices, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

— Andrew Seidman

8:59 AM - October 29, 2020
8:59 AM - October 29, 2020

Trump to hold three more rallies in Pennsylvania on Saturday

President Donald Trump campaigns at the Lancaster Airport in Lititz, Pa., Monday, October 26, 2020
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
President Donald Trump campaigns at the Lancaster Airport in Lititz, Pa., Monday, October 26, 2020

President Donald Trump will return to Pennsylvania on Saturday to hold three separate rallies in a last-ditch attempt to turn around lagging support in the commonwealth for his re-election, according to recent polls.

Trump’s rallies — which feature large crowds of mostly maskless supporters — come as Pennsylvania continues to report the most new COVID-19 cases than at any other time during the pandemic. Dozens of local physicians have urged Trump to cancel the large gatherings, citing a recent data analysis in USA Today that showed cases rose at a faster rate after Trump rallies in at least five counties around the country, including Lackawanna and Dauphin Counties in Pennsylvania.

Here’s Trump tentative schedule for Saturday, according to his campaign:

  • 1:30 p.m.: Bucks County
  • 4 p.m.: Reading Regional Airport, Reading, Berks County
  • 7 p.m.: Pittsburgh-Butler Regional Airport, Butler County

Former Vice President Joe Biden held a drive-in rally in Bucks County on Saturday, a Trump-friendly suburban county that the president lost by less than 1 percentage point to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Still, Bucks County is the most competitive stop he’ll make on Saturday, where he has mostly followed a strategy of driving up support in areas where he continues to be popular (he defeated Clinton in Butler County by 37 percentage points).

The swing follows a barnstorming trip on Monday where the president repeated false claims about Biden’s energy plan and continued his baseless attacks on mail voting, which are expected to heavily favor Democrats. He also continued to downplay the coronavirus pandemic, even as the United States averages more than 74,000 new cases a day.

— Rob Tornoe

7:30 AM - October 29, 2020
7:30 AM - October 29, 2020

Biden’s lead over Trump in Pennsylvania hasn’t budged, poll says

Former Vice President Joe Biden is holding a steady lead with likely voters in Pennsylvania, with a new Franklin & Marshall College poll showing him up 6 percentage points over President Donald Trump.

That edge in the survey released Thursday is unchanged from an F&M poll conducted in September, and in line with other surveys showing Biden leading in the state by mid- to high-single digits.

Less than a week before Election Day, Biden is outperforming Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania counties she won in 2016 while Trump is lagging in counties he carried. Trump’s victory in Pennsylvania was driven in part by white working-class voters in southwestern counties like Beaver, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland.

— Chris Brennan

7:15 AM - October 29, 2020
7:15 AM - October 29, 2020

Latino voters in Pennsylvania are diverse, growing in number — and could sway the election

Maricela Ayllon posed for a portrait holding Cempasuchil flowers outside her home in Kennett Square, Pa. on Sunday, October 18, 2020. Ayllon has voted in every election since she received her citizenship in 1999. The Cempasuchil flowers are used in Day of the Dead celebrations.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Maricela Ayllon posed for a portrait holding Cempasuchil flowers outside her home in Kennett Square, Pa. on Sunday, October 18, 2020. Ayllon has voted in every election since she received her citizenship in 1999. The Cempasuchil flowers are used in Day of the Dead celebrations.

A decade ago, Ángela Rodríguez became an American citizen and promptly registered as a Democrat. But for Rodríguez, a native of the Dominican Republic, years of living in the United States have reshaped her perception of the party’s relationship with the more than 60 million Latinos in this country.

“They have done absolutely nothing but use us,” said Rodríguez, 57, a stay-at-home caregiver for her 4-year-old granddaughter.

Maricela Ayllon, 49, has been a registered Democrat since 1999. But this year, said the Kennett Square resident and Mexico native, “I don’t feel satisfied with either of the candidates on the ballot.”

And Maram Jaber, 25, a Philadelphian of Puerto Rican descent, is sickened by the racism she sees coming from President Donald Trump — but she isn’t particularly enthusiastic about the alternative.

“For sure,” she said, asked if she knew who would get her vote. “Biden is his name?”

There are more than half-a-million Latinos in Pennsylvania who are eligible to vote, making up about 5% of the electorate, according to the Pew Research Center. The state’s Puerto Rican population makes up the largest bloc, followed by Mexicans and Dominicans. Latinos live across the state, but many are concentrated in cities including Allentown, Reading, Philadelphia, and the borough of Kennett Square in Chester County.

— Jason Laughlin, Jesenia De Moya Correa

7:00 AM - October 29, 2020
7:00 AM - October 29, 2020

At least two Pa. counties will wait to count mail ballots

 A Trump / Pence sign along the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Carlisle, Cumberland County, in September.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
A Trump / Pence sign along the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Carlisle, Cumberland County, in September.

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.

The decision drew a response from state Rep. Torren Ecker, a Republican whose district includes Cumberland County. On Twitter Wednesday night, Ecker agreed with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, who is calling for Cumberland County to canvass all ballots beginning at 7 a.m. on Election Day.

Officials in Erie County, in Northwestern Pennsylvania, a 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.”

So county elections officials across the state have spent millions of dollars to purchase sophisticated equipment to speed up the ballot-counting process as much as possible, with Philadelphia and its suburban counties planning to count votes around the clock until they’re done.

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.”

— Jonathan Lai

7:00 AM - October 29, 2020
7:00 AM - October 29, 2020

Thursday morning roundup: Second lady in Pennsylvania today

Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, speaks from Washington, during the third night of the Republican National Convention on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020.
/ AP
Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, speaks from Washington, during the third night of the Republican National Convention on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020.