Even with election called for Joe Biden, Pennsylvania’s presidential vote count goes on

A worker processes mail-in ballots at the Cumberland County Bureau of Elections on Nov. 4, 2020.

A worker processes mail-in ballots at the Cumberland County Bureau of Elections on Nov. 4, 2020. (Cumberland County Bureau of Elections)

This story originally appeared on WITF.

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Pennsylvania’s presidential vote count continues, even as news organizations have called the contest for former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden was up nearly 37,000 votes – a fraction of the number of ballots left to be processed – Saturday night.

At that point, county election workers had nearly 61,000 mailed ballots to go, Pa. Department of State statistics show.

The Associated Press was first to call the race late Saturday morning, in large part because that’s when DoS data updated and showed Biden’s margin eclipsing the recount benchmark of 0.5 percent.

In response to an inquiry from WITF for details how provisional ballots figured into projections, the AP provided an updated explanation of why the organization called Pennsylvania for Biden. The AP examined provisional ballot splits from “Trump-leaning” counties and found the president gained votes at an even lower rate than for mailed ballots across the state, according to the organization’s official statement. AP couldn’t confirm Saturday which counties’ ballots were used.

Several counties have confirmed they’ve completed vetting provisional ballots: Cumberland, Montour, Monroe, Clearfield and Sullivan with about 3,500 ballots total between them.

But most counties won’t start in earnest until Monday or Tuesday, with steps until now limited to getting an idea of how many voters cast and basic sorting for further processing. Centre, Fulton, Pike and Lebanon have started since Friday, while Mercer plans to begin Sunday.

Lynn Muchler-Stash, right, an observer with the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania watches as municipal workers sort and count Luzerne County ballots, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Lynn Muchler-Stash, right, an observer with the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania watches as municipal workers sort and count Luzerne County ballots, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (Mary Altaffer/AP Photo)

So far, 59 counties have reported more than 106,000 provisionals in response to WITF’s inquiry.

During past elections, voters cast relatively few provisional ballots. They submitted so in Pennsylvania this year because of the state’s rapid shift to mail-in voting amid postal system delays, and without changes to state law election directors had warned were critical to an efficient vote count.

That group doesn’t include Philadelphia and seven counties with far fewer voters.

On top of that, 464,607 requested mailed ballots are still unaccounted for.

Some could never be cast.

But others might have arrived since Tuesday. They wouldn’t show up in results because state officials told counties to set them aside because of the Pennsylvania GOP’s ballot return deadline challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court.

That case is one of several exacerbating challenges facing election workers counting votes.

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