With counties still barred from opening and scanning mail-in ballots earlier than 7 a.m. on Election Day, Pennsylvania election officials anticipate delayed results for the November general election.
But “this delay does not mean anything nefarious is happening,” Pennsylvania acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman told reporters during a virtual press conference on Tuesday.
“It simply means that the process is working as it’s designed to work in Pennsylvania and that election officials are doing their job to count every vote,” she added.
After the 2020 general election, former President Donald Trump and his allies used the drawn-out count to cast doubt on the results and fuel unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.
But Chapman said a longer wait reflects local efforts to count every vote — determining the winners of the U.S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor, and legislative races — and provide accurate tallies in the days after Nov. 8.
“It is reasonable that [a] thorough, accurate tally of all ballots will require several days’ worth of work,” she said.
Pennsylvanians have until Oct. 24 to register or update their voter registration before Election Day. The deadline to apply for a mail-in or absentee ballot is Nov. 1.
More than 1 million voters have requested a mail-in ballot as of Tuesday, with Democrats accounting for 766,029 applications and 178,324 coming from Republicans. Department of State data shows a 4.6% return rate, reporting 52,522 returned absentee and mail-in ballots.
The data is available online and will be updated daily, Chapman said.
And with weeks to go before the Nov. 1 deadline, the Department of State expects the number of requests to “rise dramatically,” Chapman said.
The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf reached an agreement earlier this year to give counties $45 million in new election funding as long as they “continue without interruption” until the count is complete.
The reform, Act 88, gives counties flexibility over how to use the funding, allowing local officials to use the money to buy new equipment or recruit additional staff to allow for continuous counting.
Along with the election grants, the legislation bans counties from accepting private money for election administration — a measure advocated for by Republicans after the 2020 election.
Although Chapman praised the boost in funding, she noted that the reform does not address pre-canvassing requests from local election workers.
“As a result, we must again ask for patience,” Chapman said. “Election workers must be given a reasonable amount of time to do their jobs thoroughly.”
The Department of State expects unofficial results will be available “within a few days” after the election.
“An accurate count of all eligible votes is paramount, and it cannot be rushed,” Chapman said.
Two post-election audits — a statistical sampling required by law and a risk-limiting audit — were conducted after the 2020 election in Pennsylvania. Sixty-three out of the commonwealth’s 67 counties participated in the risk-limiting audit pilot, and neither assessment found evidence of fraud.
This year, the Department of State directed every county to complete a post-election, pre-certification risk-limiting audit to confirm the results in addition to the statistical sampling.
Marley Parish is a reporter with the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.