Why do mailed ballots slow election results in Pennsylvania?


HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – The count of mailed-in ballots in Pennsylvania is being resumed amid a close US Senate primary between Republicans David McCormick and Dr. Mehmet Oz scrutinized again.

Former President Donald Trump blasted the state’s election procedures on social media on Wednesday, though there’s no evidence of any wrongdoing with those ballots other than a misprint that slowed counting in one county.

He has been relentless in his criticism of the state’s electoral processes since his defeat in Pennsylvania two years ago, when it took several days to count the results of every ballot mailed out.

The head of the state’s association of county commissioners, the local officials who oversee voting in Pennsylvania, described Tuesday’s primary as “a very smooth polling day,” but acknowledged that the state’s 2019 law expands the use of ballots by mail could be improved.


Until 2019, Pennsylvania only allowed limited use of absentee ballots for voting. Voters could only receive a mail ballot if they could demonstrate a medical problem, planned travel, or other complication that would prevent them from voting in person on Election Day.

A legislative deal this year ended direct voting, a Republican priority, in exchange for anyone being able to request a mail-in ballot, a change Democrats were seeking.

The expansion of postal voting left the long-standing procedures for postal voting intact. But the pandemic has brought with it a much wider use of mail-in ballots than anyone expected, as voters sought alternatives to voting in crowded counties.

The state Supreme Court allowed more ballot box collection boxes in 2020 and extended the acceptance period for mailed ballots to three days after the election, provided they were mailed by Election Day. These temporary changes fueled Trump’s claim that mailed ballots provided an opportunity for widespread fraud, but there is no evidence to support this.


County officials across the state have called for changes to the 2019 law. A major problem is that counties are not allowed to begin processing mail-in ballots before Election Day. A head start would allow local poll workers to spot errors in advance and prepare the properly marked ballots for counting.

Failure to allow this early processing creates a huge backlog of ballots to process while local election officials focus on voting on Election Day. This results in a delay of several days – or longer – for the counting of mailed ballots.

Both parties generally agree that the law should be changed to allow for early processing of these ballots. That didn’t happen, in part because of disagreements between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat. Controversial changes include how much time should be allowed for ballots to be received and how to address issues like signature verification and dropboxes.

Republican lawmakers have proposed tying early-election campaigning to a variety of other electoral law changes they want, including tighter voter ID requirements, changes Democrats don’t support.


Trump, who supported Oz, posted on his Truth Social platform on Wednesday that Oz should “declare victory” and argued that “they have a much harder time cheating with the ballots they ‘found’ by accident.”

Oz did not heed that advice and made no public statements on Wednesday.

In another post, Trump said, “Here we go again! In Pennsylvania, they can’t count mail-in ballots. It’s a big mess. Our country should vote on paper and vote on the same day.”

He was probably referring to an issue in Lancaster County, a GOP stronghold in the heart of Amish country. County election officials said a company that printed its mailed ballots contained the wrong ID code that prevented scanners from reading them. The problem affected at least 21,000 mailed ballots, only a third of which were properly scanned. The slow but carefully detailed process of transferring the votes to new ballots that can be scanned is underway.

Trump is showing an increased interest in Pennsylvania because it’s one of the president’s most important battlegrounds and voters are fairly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.


Eight states allow all elections to be conducted entirely by mail. That includes Republican-led Utah, which has had postal-only voting statewide since 2019 and has reported no major problems.

Numerous safeguards are in place in these and other states to ensure that people casting absentee ballots are who they say they are and only vote once. Pennsylvania counties have successfully counted absentee ballots in every election in which they have been used.

Despite claims by Trump and his allies, there has been no evidence of widespread fraud or a conspiracy to steal the 2020 presidential election. Numerous judges, including those appointed by Trump, dismissed lawsuits filed in connection with the November 2020 election.

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A group of federal and state election officials issued a statement calling the 2020 election the “safest” in U.S. history. And a comprehensive review by The Associated Press of every potential fraud case in the six states disputed by Trump, including Pennsylvania, found nowhere near enough cases to affect the outcome.


There’s nothing suspicious about that. The counts reported by election officials on election night are unofficial results. These totals will change over time, particularly as ballots sent in the mail are checked and counted. Local elections offices have strict procedures to ensure that every valid vote is counted.

It can take weeks for an election to be confirmed – the point at which all results are final. In states that allow election officials to preprocess and even prescan mailed ballots, results can come in quickly.

Some states allow mailed ballots to be accepted if they arrive a few days after the election, provided they are postmarked by Election Day.

Several states are also giving voters a post-election period to correct technical errors in their absentee voting, e.g. B. forgetting to sign them. Once these are determined, the ballot is counted and added to the totals.

More: How do Pennsylvania election recount rules work?

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