Unprecedented Pa. primary has lessons for November

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Voters wait in a socially distanced line outside their polling place

Voters wait in a socially distanced line outside their polling place in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Civil unrest, a pandemic, widespread mail-in balloting, and new voting machines combined to make last Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary an unprecedented one. With the presidential nominations already decided, this low-stakes primary was an important test run for the November general election.

WHYY political reporter Katie Meyer breaks down what we learned last week about preparing for the unexpected and about how long results could take to trickle in under these new systems.

Hear the whole story on The Why

On the effect of the Black Lives Matter protests

People worried that, for instance, the police presence might deter people from coming out to vote. People worried that people might not know that they’re still allowed to come out during the curfew to vote. So it was it became a very sort of unknowable situation in terms of figuring out how this was all going to affect people voting and whether it was going to disenfranchise people.

What we learned about expanded mail-in balloting

We’ve given Pennsylvanians the option now to vote much more broadly by mail, and they have taken that option. And it’s very likely that people are going to continue taking advantage of that option. And so that really changes what county election offices have to do on Election Day. And so one of the things they have pushed for is to be allowed to start counting mail-in ballots earlier, just so they can get ahead of the curve and frankly, so it won’t take them so long after Election Day to keep tallying votes.

On what could happen in November

We are in a huge general election year, and Pennsylvania is an incredibly important state. And so there are states that have been voting by mail for a long time that are sort of used to waiting for their total counts to be in. You know, Pennsylvania is not one of those states. We’re not used to that. This has been a real new experience for us. And my concern, and I think a concern that a lot of people have going into November is, say it is election night and the race is coming down to a handful of states. One of them is Pennsylvania … And Pennsylvania doesn’t know what its counts are. Pennsylvania doesn’t have its results yet. You know, I think it’s tough for us to envision how crazy that’s going to look if that does indeed happen. And whenever results take a long time, people start to trust the results a little bit less. And so I think being transparent about how long things are going to take is going to be something that’s really important here.

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