Pa. Secretary of State: No promise all Pa. ballots will be counted by end of Thursday

Trump supporters gather in front of the Pennsylvania Convention Center to object to the way votes are being counted there.

Trump supporters gather in front of the Pennsylvania Convention Center to object to the way votes are being counted there. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Updated 6:41 p.m.

Pennsylvania still has “several hundred thousand” mail ballots left to count, according to Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar.

Although she says counting is ahead of schedule, she’s making no promises that results will be in Thursday night.

“It’s very close in Pennsylvania. There’s no question. That means it’s going to take longer,” said Boockvar.

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Boockvar says counters have already gotten through hundreds of thousands of ballots today, and will keep working into the evening.

She noted, military and provisional ballots still haven’t been counted, and there are an unknown number of late-arriving ballots than can still be accepted until tomorrow.

Earlier she said the “overwhelming majority” of ballots would be counted by sometime on Thursday.

The state’s top elections official made her statement as some of Pa.’s largest counties, including Philadelphia and Allegheny, continue counting ballots with tens of thousands more votes to tally.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign continues to wage its legal battle to halt or delay the counting of mail ballots in Pennsylvania. The increasingly furious effort gained momentum Thursday as the election results grew more favorable for Biden.

“STOP THE COUNT,” Trump tweeted.

Trump also spent time Thursday accusing Pa. elections of fraud on Twitter — a claim Twitter labelled as misleading.

Trump challenge resulted in ‘brief pause’ in count

Philadelphia’s vote-counting operation has been running nonstop in the Pennsylvania Convention Center since 7 a.m. on Election Day.

As of Thursday evening, there are at least 80,000 mail ballots left to count in Philadelphia, which started counting on Election Day with more than 350,000.

Several rallies and press conferences have made for a lively scene outside the center, but the interior operation had remained relatively calm — until Trump campaign lawyer Corey Lewandowski stormed inside Thursday morning.

Lewandowski arrived with an order from Commonwealth Court in hand, reversing an earlier ruling and granting the campaign observation access within 6 feet of election workers inside the canvassing center. Contrary to claims made by the campaign and Trump himself, observers had been allowed entry but were previously limited to an area about 20 feet away from workers.

“Democracy dies in darkness. This is the opportunity to shed light on what’s going on inside the building,” said Lewandowski.

The litigation caused a “brief” pause in vote tallying mid-morning, according to city spokesperson Kevin Feeley. “The count is going forward,” he told WHYY News. Philadelphia is appealing the ruling to the Pa. Supreme Court, city officials said.

Lewandowski returned later to announce a similar legal filing in federal court.

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Anyone can view Philly’s vote-counting operation from afar, thanks to a livestream set up by the City Commissioners, the board that oversees voting and elections in the city. The stream went viral on Election Day, attracting tens of thousands of viewers and prompting headlines in publications from Wired to Business Insider to TechCrunch highlighting the chance to view “democracy in action.”

Trump operative Corey Lewandowski addresses reporters at Pennsylvania Convention Center, where Philadelphia votes are being counted, while armed with what appears to be a court order.
Trump operative Corey Lewandowski addresses reporters at Pennsylvania Convention Center, where Philadelphia votes are being counted, while armed with what appears to be a court order. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

As predicted, the climbing tally of mail ballot results in Pennsylvania shows former Vice President Joe Biden steadily gaining on the president’s current lead in the battleground state. Just over three-quarters of the state’s mail votes had been counted by midday Thursday.

Lauren Vidas, a Democratic election lawyer, said the latest ruling would change little regarding operations inside the ballot counting center.

“Both the Biden campaign and Trump campaign have had equal access to observe the ballot canvass process since it started Tuesday morning,” she said. “While this court order allows observers to be closer to staff processing the ballot, it does not grant any additional powers to observers in their role. This court order simply allows them to be slightly closer than they were before.”

Trump lawyers had initially sought to temporarily halt the count in Philadelphia altogether over these issues, and sources said efforts were still underway to throw up new legal obstacles to vote-counting. Trump has also implied, without evidence, that lack of adequate observation had already spoiled results.

Philly’s mail counting operation is housed inside a cavernous hall just inside the Convention Center’s 12th Street entrance.

Most of the activity is clustered near the front of the space. There are nearly two dozen envelope extractors, which mechanically slice open both the mail envelope and the secrecy envelope containing the ballot. Not far away, election workers are flattening those ballots so they can be fed into one of 12 high-speed scanners, the machines responsible for the actual tallying of votes.

Per a directive from Pa. Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, election officials are segregating ballots received between 8 p.m. election night and 5 p.m. on Friday.

Those ballots must be counted even if they are not clearly postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day — so long as there’s no evidence proving the votes were cast after that time. It’s unclear how many mail ballots have arrived so far during the three-day extension.

The Trump campaign has challenged the inclusion of these ballots, with lawsuits currently pending in state court.

On Thursday, City Commissioner Lisa Deeley said she couldn’t give a timeline for when Philly workers would wrap up the count. “I feel very comfortable in the progress that we’ve made so far, and I look forward to continuing that progress. But I don’t want to hold myself or us to a hard, fast deadline,” she said.

“We’re pushing out the results as quickly as we can. We’re not holding back,” added fellow City Commissioner Al Schmidt.

More legal challenges to Philadelphia’s mail ballots are likely once the full count is known.

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