The Real Reason for PA Delay? The State’s GOP Put the Brakes on Early Counting.

Election workers count ballots on November 04, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Republicans in the state legislature refused to allow early processing of ballots, leading to delays in counting. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Election workers count ballots on November 04, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Republicans in the state legislature refused to allow early processing of ballots, leading to delays in counting. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

By Keya Vakil

November 4, 2020

Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania refused to allow mail-in ballots to be processed ahead of time, causing delays that have left the result of the 2020 presidential election in limbo.

One of the most likely presidential election scenarios has now come to pass, with Pennsylvania primed to play a pivotal role in deciding the outcome of the presidential race between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

The race currently remains up in the air, with thousands of mail-in ballots left to count in key swing states like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. In most of these states, including Pennsylvania, the remaining ballots skew heavily Democratic. As those votes are counted, they could help make Biden the next president.

In Pennsylvania, Biden is now leading by nearly 7,000 votes. His lead is expected to grow as mail-in ballots continue to be counted across the state, especially in Democratic-leaning counties in Eastern Pennsylvania and in Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located (another Democratic-leaning county). 

“We are going to accurately count every single ballot.” said Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar during a press conference on Wednesday.

Why the delay in counting these ballots? Due to state law, election officials in the state were legally unable to even begin processing—let alone count—ballots until Election Day. Democrats in the state, including Gov. Tom Wolf tried to pass legislation that would allow counties to begin pre-canvassing ballots to verify their validity before Election Day, but were obstructed by the Republican-led legislature. 

The Pennsylvania GOP has attempted to blame Democrats for the delay. State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff falsely claimed that the delay was a “failure” of the Wolf administration and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. However, his party controls the Legislature. Some Republican lawmakers even went as far as to call on Boockvar to resign because they disagreed with her management of the election. 

Boockvar was quick to hit back at them, however. “Frankly they’re the ones I think who should resign for not allowing Pennsylvania to start pre-canvassing ballots early,” Boockvar said on Tuesday.

Other Democrats have also dismissed the Republicans’ argument as blatantly false. 

“I’ve said for months now that PA Republicans only strategy was delay and chaos. Dems tried without success to approve pre-canvassing which would have allowed for a quicker tabulation,” Philadelphia-area Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta said in a Wednesday tweet. “It was clear this delay would occur. But what also will happen is counting every vote. Period.”

David Becker, the executive director and founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research, also pointed out that the delays were the result of Republican inaction.

“Republican legislatures largely set the rules in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania,” Becker said during a Wednesday press call with reporters. “Those legislatures refused to allow election officials to process a lot of these ballots in advance, which would have allowed them to report them out much faster.”

Due to the Pennsylvania GOP’s failure to approve pre-Election Day processing of ballots, the initial vote count in Pennsylvania is made up primarily of Election Day votes, which were disproportionately Republican. This has been called the “red mirage” by election experts.

But as more and more votes come in, that margin has flipped, putting Biden in the lead. That reality has led President Donald Trump to lie about the validity of those votes and threaten legal action, even though ballots are always counted after Election Day and there is nothing nefarious about that. 

In fact, Pennsylvania’s deadline for military and overseas ballots to be received is next Tuesday. Those ballots could play a decisive role, depending on how close the race is. In the 2016 presidential election, Pennsylvania received 22,327 overseas military and civilian ballots, according to a report from the US Election Assistance Commission. That number is expected to be higher this year, in Pennsylvania and other states.

The state also still has to verify and count provisional ballots, which, again, is simply the democratic process at work. That reality appears unlikely to dissuade Trump from trying to disenfranchise millions of American voters and attack democracy, but it still remains the truth: Votes are being counted.

That, after all, is how elections work. 

UPDATE Nov. 6, 2020 10:54 a.m. EST: This article was updated to reflect the state of the race today.


  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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