In the suburbs, expect at least a 2-day wait for initial mail-in ballot totals

Chester County election workers sort, inspect, flatten and scan mail in ballots at the West Chester University gym.

Chester County election workers sort, inspect, flatten and scan mail in ballots at the West Chester University gym.(Emma Lee/WHYY)

Officials with Philadelphia’s collar counties started counting an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots this morning, but say not to expect totals for at least 48 hours in most cases.

In Bucks County, a staff of 30 began processing mail-in ballots at 7 a.m. on Election Day.

Workers were divided between stations where ballots were removed from their mailing envelope and secrecy envelopes, and stations where they were flattened out so they could be fed through a machine that reads the votes. Scanning was slated to start around noon, said Diane Ellis-Marseglia, one of the three Bucks County Board of Elections commissioners.

Election worker Patricia Masi inspects mail-in ballots at the West Chester University gym
Election worker Patricia Masi inspects mail-in ballots at the West Chester University gym, where Chester County ballots are being sorted and counted. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“We might be able to have 30,000 by 10 p.m. if everything goes smoothly,” she said. That’s when the county plans to start announcing mail-in returns. Bucks County has 153,000 returned mail-in ballots to tally.

A similar sequence is unfolding inside the gymnasium of West Chester University in Chester County, where 65 people are working across three shifts, 24 hours a day to get the approximately 138,000 mail-in ballots counted. Acting director of the Chester County Board of Elections Bill Turner predicted that the county could get through most of the ballots “sometime” on Wednesday.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Turner said, “it’s taking a little longer than we hoped.” Under the rules of pre-canvassing, election officials were allowed to inspect the envelopes for proper signatures prior to 7 a.m. on Election Day, but election-watchers have been asking for that inspection to happen in front of them. Even so, Chester County began scanning early ballots around 9 a.m.

Montgomery County has the tallest order, with more than 231,000 mail-in ballots to count. County officials predicted it would take two to three days to get through them all, working around the clock. Ballots are expected to be posted starting at 8:30 p.m. Results from in-person votes cast will start posting around 9 p.m. tonight, and are expected to be completed around 1 a.m.

Delaware County officials confirmed this morning that election workers there began counting 111,000 mail-in ballots at 7 a.m. They have not yet responded to questions about how quickly their staff is getting through the tally.

Per a September Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, the county boards of election should accept mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day but received up to three days after. Whether those ballots will be counted is likely to be a source of litigation in the event of close returns Tuesday night.

Statewide, voters returned more than 2.5 million mail-in ballots by November 3, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

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