Pa. says ‘overwhelming majority of ballots’ will be counted three days after Election Day

Pa. Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar said she expects the “overwhelming majority of ballots” to be tabulated three days after Election Day.

Alice and Len Sayles return their ballots in the drop box outside City Hall

Alice and Len Sayles, Rittenhouse Square residents, return their ballots in the drop box outside City Hall in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Pennsylvania officials don’t anticipate tallying election results will take more than a few days after voters head to the polls and ballots are in, but declaring a winner will likely take longer.

On a press call Friday morning, Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar said she anticipates “an overwhelming majority of ballots” to be tallied by the Friday after Election Day.

She said if the race is a blowout, the commonwealth could declare a winner by then.

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“The closer the race, the longer it will take to know who the winner is, and oftentimes you do know within 24-36 hours because it’s not a very, very close race.”

She did not speculate about whether this upcoming election will be close enough to declare a winner within that time frame.

Secretary Boockvar once again urged the state legislature to allow the state to begin counting ballots early, saying it would cut down on tabulation time.

“This is something that would cost nothing, would completely solve the problem, and have no side effects. We’ve been asking the legislature to do this for months and months since March. They have not taken the action. We are going to continue to urge them to take the action,” she said. “This is not the way to do it. We need to continue the conversation and actually just do what actually benefits every voter across the commonwealth and the nation. It’s about the simplest resolution you can possibly design.”

Pa. is just one of four states in the country that don’t allow even the pre-processing of ballots — removing them from an outer envelope and sorting — before Election Day. Even states that don’t allow ballot counting before the polls open often allow election workers to do some of the work ahead of time so the counting on Election Day goes more quickly.

Boockvar said election security in the state has been beefed up since 2016, when Pa. was one of the states whose voter registration data was sought by Russian hackers.

“[Hackers] were testing to see where they could get in. They came to Pennsylvania just like they came to all those other states, and they couldn’t get in, so they went on to the next one. So even back then when those attempts happened, we were secure. And since then, we’ve taken so many steps.”

She says since the U.S. government created the Election Infrastructure Subsector Government Coordinating Council in 2017, security has improved.

Pa. Department of Homeland Security Director Marcus Brown agrees.

“We are coordinating across state, local, and federal partners to make sure the election is safe and secure,” he said. “If you look back at 2016, the same concerns being raised in this election, many of them are being raised here as well.”

He said divided party politics, inter-party aggression, concerns about peacefully transferring power, and election security questions have prepared law enforcement and public safety officials to safely and securely hold the 2020 election.

Secretary Boockvar said the power outage that shut down Pa.’s voter registration website for 40 hours earlier this month isn’t something voters should be concerned about. The outage happened when a Unisys-run data center in Virginia broke down.

“During that time the online application was down, I want to be clear all the other methods of registering to vote or applying for your mail-in ballot were still completely valid,” she said. “They were able to go onto our Votes PA website, they could print out a voter form, they could call 877-VOTES-PA to request an application, they could go to their county election office and register to vote in person, they could drop off a paper form.”

She says she spoke with the state’s IT team and the Unisys center and said measures are being put in place to make sure the website runs smoothly going forward.

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