First batch of Pa. mail-in votes processing smoothly

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FILE - This May 26, 2020 file photo shows an Official Democratic General Primary mail-in ballot and secrecy envelope, for the Pennsylvania primary in Pittsburgh. Democrats are launching a digital ad targeting Pennsylvanians voting by mail to explain how to correctly fill out and return the ballots, hoping to avert worried predictions that 100,000 votes or more could be invalidated because the ballots aren't put in the proper envelope.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

FILE - This May 26, 2020 file photo shows an Official Democratic General Primary mail-in ballot and secrecy envelope, for the Pennsylvania primary in Pittsburgh. Democrats are launching a digital ad targeting Pennsylvanians voting by mail to explain how to correctly fill out and return the ballots, hoping to avert worried predictions that 100,000 votes or more could be invalidated because the ballots aren't put in the proper envelope. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Ask us: What do you want to know about voting and the 2020 election?

Pennsylvania has solidified its reputation as an election battleground state, once again.

And this year, some may categorize it as a ‘stressed out’ state, because it’s a constant campaign playground of Donald Trump and Joe Biden during a pandemic and is relying heavily on early voting, which comes with many hiccups.

WHYY’s political reporter Katie Meyer spoke with Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn for an update on our region’s early voting scenario.

Good morning, Katie.

Good morning.

Katie, when we last spoke my takeaway from our conversation was, if you are an early mail-in voter, vote early and fill out your ballot properly. How’s everything going since we last spoke?

Well, things are chugging along. Ballots are going out as we speak. More and more people have them every day. For the most part, counties have said things are going fairly smoothly now. There’s always going to be problems. For instance, one of the things that I reported on was in Montgomery County, the Department of State accidentally sent out an email to voters on September 2, telling them that their ballots were on the way and that actually wasn’t the case. The email wasn’t supposed to be sent. The ballots had just been sent to the printer. And the turnaround time was long enough because it was so many ballots that they weren’t sent out until Sept. 30. So that was a considerable lag time. And so what I started hearing from voters was just sort of confusion and a lot of nerves about what was going on with the ballot.

Katie, human oversight, they’re going to happen from time to time, but they’re not helpful to building public trust in the process.

I think that’s right. I mean, certainly this is an election with a lot of new processes. You know, this is the first general election where we’ve used broad, no-excuse mail-in voting in Pennsylvania. At this point, it feels like a very charged atmosphere. So people get extra worried when they do see things that aren’t going quite as planned.

And Katie, there are some legal challenges to the voting process in Pennsylvania. Still no pre-canvassing in Pennsylvania. Maybe you can remind listeners what that is and what people are hoping could be done in the way of counting ballots.

So pre-canvasing is basically just like starting to process ballots ahead of the actual count. In Pennsylvania, for mail ballots, counties can only start doing that processing at 7:00 a.m. on Election Day. Usually that’s OK. But because we have so, so many mail-in ballots this year, counties have been pushing really hard to be allowed to start counting them earlier. So we can have results earlier, because as it stands, they say there’s no way we’re gonna have results on election night if we can’t count the ballots earlier. That would only change if Pennsylvania’s legislature changed the law and allowed pre-canvassing.

Yes. And that has not happened.

And the reason it hasn’t happened isn’t because they don’t agree on pre-canvassing, but [because] Republicans have continued to try to put other things into this bill. So, for instance, they wanted to get rid of ballot-drop boxes that a lot of the counties are putting in place. Now, the state has extended its ballot-acceptance day until three days after the election. If the ballot is postmarked by Election Day, Republicans want to get rid of that. And this is all couched in these conversations about election integrity and potential for fraud, that kind of stuff. We’ve seen a lot, a lot of arguments about that. And that is why, as it stands right now, they’re still talking about it. But we do not have counting happening before Election Day.

Let’s talk about presidential election polls. And Biden seems to be leading about 7% over Donald Trump, according to polling averages that are being reported. What polls do we believe this time? I mean, polls didn’t exactly capture the true nature of Trump’s popularity in Pennsylvania when he won the state in 2016.

Certainly there were discrepancies in 2016 and there are a lot of reasons for that. I also think people forget the race had tightened pretty considerably right before the election. Pollsters who I’ve talked to recently say they have changed their methods a little bit to reflect what happened in 2016. For instance, so Donald Trump, one of his biggest indicators of support was whether a voter had a college degree. And so his very, very strong base was among what demographers would call white, non-college voters. And they came out in huge numbers for him. And I think that is what was a little bit underrepresented in polls. So now, polls take that into account. That, hopefully in the eyes of pollsters, makes them a little bit more accurate in predicting outcomes. Any one poll can always be an outlier. We’ve had some Quinnipiac polls of southern voters recently that look a little bit off. So you got to look at all of the polls that are coming in and you have to pick out what looks accurate, and so polling averages are a really good way to do that.

All right. WHYY’s political reporter Katie Meyer, thanks.

Thank you.

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