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Six days, Pennsylvania. Yesterday was the last day to request a mail ballot, and voters waited in lines for hours at elections offices across the state. President Donald Trump held three rallies here Monday. And Joe Biden — who has visited Pennsylvania more times since his convention than any other state by far — also made a surprise visit Monday to Delaware County. Expect more in the closing days.
Today, we’re taking you on a cross-state road trip with our colleague Jonathan Tamari, who lays out the deep political and cultural divisions that make this The Divided States of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania is made up of cities and suburbs, valleys and mountain vistas, farmland and forest-lined lakes, Sheetz and Wawa. And 13 million people call its almost 45,000 square miles home.
“In other words, it mirrors America — so it’s fitting that Pennsylvania is one of the country’s most politically competitive states,” Jonathan Tamari writes.
Jonathan visited five distinct regions to capture the places that represent Pennsylvania’s defining political elements — and the contrasts that make it such a close call in presidential races.
Philadelphia and urban Pennsylvania
“Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are the big-city anchors of liberalism in the divided state, deep-blue foundations in a place where so much of the map is red.”
Pennsylvania’s two big cities look a lot different from the rest of the state. And that manifests itself in its political leanings and the issues voters there care about most.
Chester County and the fast-changing suburbs
“Affluent, highly educated places like Chester County leaned right for decades, favoring lower taxes and business-friendly policies, even while holding moderate views on social issues.”
But the way they’re voting now could swing the election. The suburbs are getting more diverse and the concerns that have top billing have shifted from taxes to climate change and school shootings — and the voters have become far more Democratic.
Franklin County and rural Pennsylvania
“The landscape here is full of Trump signs, flags, and banners — on lawns, on flagpoles, on garages, cars, and bicycles. Some depict Trump atop a tank, explosions and bald eagles behind him. They’re frequently paired with American flags and seem less a statement of policy preference and more of personal identity, cultural belonging, and attitude.”
Franklin County in south-central Pennsylvania is about as red as Philadelphia is blue. Although it accounted for just 1% of the state’s total votes in 2016, there are a lot of “Franklin Counties” in Pennsylvania where “people want to be left alone.”
Cambria County and Appalachia
“Cambria is like Chester County in reverse. While Philadelphia and upscale suburbs are growing thanks to transplants … many struggling, postindustrial areas are shrinking.”
Cambria County and much of Southwestern Pennsylvania used to be a Democratic stronghold, with blue-collar workers at mines and steel mills siding with the party of labor unions. Now, some voters in the region have soured on a party they see as becoming too liberal on issues including abortion and gun rights.
Erie County and the Industrial Midwest
“It’s Pennsylvania’s Pennsylvania, a battleground that journalists from around the world are visiting for clues to who will win the presidency.”
A defining characteristic of Erie County and places like it are that there are few defining characteristics. There are hunters who support stricter gun laws, two-time Obama voters who now support Trump. And there are also signs it’s a county that could swing from Trump to Biden this year.
We talked about this last week, and advised you to take a deep breath. But now the deadline to request a mail ballot has passed, and the state’s top elections official advised today against using the mail to send ballots back with so little time left (drop it off in person instead, she said).
If you requested a ballot and haven’t received it, it’s probably on its way still. But if you’re getting worried, here’s what you can do.
If you’re concerned your ballot won’t arrive
If you think something has gone wrong, or you don’t want to wait anymore, you can go to a county elections office — including one of the satellite offices — and request a new ballot. You can do this even though the application deadline has passed because you already applied, you just never got your ballot. While you’re there, you can just fill it out and submit it on the spot.
You can still go to the polls to vote on Election Day
Because you requested a ballot, you won’t be allowed to use the machines, but you’ll be a given a paper provisional ballot, which is set aside and counted after elections officials confirm you didn’t vote by mail.
Just remember that if you choose either of these methods of voting in person after requesting a mail ballot, it will take longer for you to vote than for others. That could affect the flow of voters through the polling place, so just be aware of that.
And remember, no matter what you choose, the most important thing is you follow the instructions, whether filling out and returning the ballot or voting in person. If something goes wrong, other options are still available.
—Jonathan Lai (@Elaijuh)
We’ve got lots more on this subject: What to do if you haven’t received your mail ballot yet in Pennsylvania
“I say vote for your grandmother. If you don’t care, it doesn’t matter, just vote because of what they did to try to vote. Especially as a person of color. It’s an hour, two hours out of your day, just go vote.”
— Dawn Athy, 56, one of many Black women in Pennsylvania who see the stakes in 2020 as higher than ever
After interviewing nearly 100 people, Jonathan Tamari came back from his travels through Pennsylvania with even more observations about Pennsylvania politics right that didn’t make it into his story. Here are just a few of them.
1. Divisions are getting personalPolitics can always incite family drama, but it seems to be even more intense this year than it has in the past.
2. Suburban activism is about more than just votingThe biggest impact of this wave of activism could actually be on local races with tighter vote margins.
3. Even in these Divided States, there are nuancesVisiting with folks from throughout Pennsylvania provides an important reminder that voters aren’t always defined by the typical political talking points.
For the rest of the takeaways from Jonathan’s trip through Pennsylvania to speak with voters, you can read more here.