WILKES-BARRE, Pa – Election officials across the U.S. are dealing with a record-breaking number of mail-in ballots as millions of Americans plan to vote by mail in the 2020 presidential election.
Three critical swing states, however, face another challenge. In Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, workers are not allowed to prepare and scan ballots before Election Day, a process called pre-canvassing.
“If the state legislature and the governor don’t change that law, we will never have results on election night,” said David Pedri, Luzerne County’s manager.
There’s a bill moving through the courts in Pennsylvania now that, if passed, would allow workers to start checking ballots the Saturday before Election Day.
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“Under Pennsylvania law right now we’re not allowed to pre-canvass these mailing ballots until Election Day at 7 a.m.,” said Pedri.
Local officials, like Pedri, say the final count won’t be ready on Election Day unless they can start counting ballots earlier.
“Will it take months? Probably not. Could it take weeks? Probably,” said Jennifer Morrell, a member of the National Task Force on Election Crises.
Morrell ran elections in Utah and Colorado. Now, she’s helping in Pennsylvania and says checking ballots takes longer than one would think.
“Open a ballot, take out an envelope, open it again, remove a piece of paper, unfold it, flatten it and get it ready for scanning. Then take that and times that by thousands or hundreds of thousands and you start to get an idea of the amount of time it requires to do something that – on its face sounds really simple, right? Taking a ballot out of an envelope, is often the thing that takes the most time,” said Morrell.
Luzerne County is a swing county in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.
“Donald Trump won Luzerne County by 26,000 votes after voting for Barack Obama twice in the previous two elections,” said Pedri.
Election workers there are dealing with more mail-in ballots than ever.
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“We’re getting more every day,” said Shelby Watchilla, Luzerne County’s Director of Elections.
According to Watchilla, more than 60,000 people in Luzerne County registered to vote by mail. There are about 216,000 total registered voters in the county.
“People are going to be looking at Pennsylvania and they’re going to be looking at Luzerne County for these votes. We won’t have the results on election night unless they start allowing us to pre-canvass earlier,” said Pedri.
Pedri’s worried a delayed final count could raise concerns amongst voters.
“That’s when people start worrying about things like voter fraud, stealing the election, what’s out there? People want the results on election night. Doesn’t everybody want to be done with this election by now?” said Pedri.
Pennsylvania’s Senate will only be in session three more times to potentially vote on House Bill 2626 before the November election.