A voter arrives to cast their mail-in ballot at the City-County Building in downtown Pittsburgh Monday, May 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) Election 2022 Pennsylvania
A voter arrives to cast their mail-in ballot at the City-County Building in downtown Pittsburgh Monday, May 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

With the midterm election almost here, counties in Pennsylvania are gearing up for the vote counting process. With close to 9 million registered voters in the state, and almost one million mail-in ballots already returned, it could take some time before we know the winners.

On Nov. 8, millions of Pennsylvanians will trek to their local polling places to cast their ballots in the midterm election. There is a lot at stake as voters select the commonwealth’s next governor, a new US Senator, congressional representatives, state senators, and state representatives. 

While polling places are a hotbed of activity on Election Day, the real work starts after the votes have been cast.

“We understand that voters, candidates and the media want election results as soon as possible. But counting all the eligible votes and reporting the results take time, and counties are rightfully focused on accuracy over speed,” said Leigh Chapman, who in her role as Acting Secretary of State, oversees the election process in Pennsylvania. 

So what exactly happens after polls close at 8 p.m. on Election Day? Let’s take a look.

Vote Counting Begins

Once all in-person votes have been cast, poll workers can begin tabulating the results. With close to 9 million registered voters, this can take some time.

In addition to in-person ballots, counties must also count mail-in and absentee ballots. Current election law in the commonwealth does not permit counties to begin pre-canvassing absentee ballots or mail-in ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day. That means county election officials cannot remove the ballots from the envelopes and prepare them to be scanned until that time, on a day when those same officials are also running the more than 9,000 polling places across the state.

As of Thursday, nearly 963,000 mail-in ballots have already been returned in Pennsylvania, according to data provided by the state. Of these ballots, 682,765 are from registered Democrats, 196,898 are from registered Republicans, and 82,893 are from voters not affiliated with the two major parties. 

And then, under the Election Code, counties may not even begin to record and publish mail ballot results until after the polls close. Some counties don’t have the staff to even start counting the ballots until polls close.

Once the ballots are pre-canvassed, they are scanned and counted. The process of scanning and counting all the ballots can take a few days. In addition, Pennsylvania law requires a three-day period for overseas and military voters to submit their ballots. Therefore, unofficial results will not be available until a few days after the election.

In addition, counties must also verify provisional ballots, which are used to record votes when there are questions regarding a voter’s eligibility.

Despite widely debunked claims of election fraud and ballot tampering from Republicans—some of whom, like gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano and US House candidate Scott Perry, are on the ballot—state and county election officials go to great lengths to preserve the integrity of the election process.

“I want to emphasize that, throughout voting and pre-canvassing, people serving in specific roles observe the integrity of the process,” Chapman said. “Specifically, poll watchers can be present during in-person voting, and authorized representatives who have been chosen by candidates and political parties can be present during the pre-canvassing and canvassing of mail-in and absentee ballots.”

Election Results May Take Time

Chapman said that the sheer scale and mechanics of the vote counting process may make for a days-long delay in official results being released.

“I’m trying to manage expectations about the vote count and what people can expect after Election Day,” Chapman said. “Expecting results in one day is unrealistic and unfair.”

Counties run the elections themselves and are only required to share how far along they are in the counting process. Results themselves could still take a while, and will not be certified by the state until Nov. 28.

During a delay in reporting of results, Chapman warned that claims of voter fraud could start to run rampant. If that happens, here’s what to do:

  • Consider the information
  • Assess who it comes from and see if they’re credible
  • Search for other stories or information that may back up the claims being made

When in doubt, don’t share or spread something you’re not sure about. Let elections officials do their job and let the votes be counted.

Looking for more information on voting in Pennsylvania? Click here.