If you see the vote count delayed, if we’re still waiting for a winner on Wednesday, if there’s a flurry of lawsuits in Pennsylvania, you can thank state Republicans.
Counting votes in Philadelphia may take a few days after a Republican-led lawsuit prompted city officials on Tuesday to reinstate a time-consuming process specific only to Philadelphia that prevents double votes but dramatically slows down the vote counting process.
The Philadelphia commissioners—a three-member board that oversees city elections—voted 2-1 on Tuesday morning to reinstate “poll book reconciliation,” a procedure that detects any mail ballots submitted by voters who also voted in person.
As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, the vote comes less than a week after the board opted to remove the reconciliation process for the 2022 elections, arguing it was no longer necessary.
The reversal means that it could take several days for city election officials to count all the votes instead of having results by Wednesday morning, as city officials had previously suggested would happen.
What is Poll Book Reconciliation?
Poll book reconciliation involves scanning poll books—an electronic and/or paper registry of voters for each precinct—and marking off voters who cast their ballots in person at polling places. This allows election officials to ensure the accuracy of the count at each precinct and prevent voters from voting twice (by mail and in person).
But poll books are printed before Election Day, and voters whose mail ballots are received after the books are printed aren’t always marked off in poll books, which can theoretically lead to some double votes.
Poll book reconciliation is not required by state law, according to court records reviewed by the Washington Post, and most counties don’t do it.
But in Philadelphia, amid a surge of mail voting in 2020, election officials opted to stop counting votes and scan all poll books at each precinct before any mail ballots from those precincts were counted. This allowed officials to detect and remove any double votes before the count, but the process was laborious and dramatically slowed down the vote counting process.
Philadelphia’s reconciliation process detected 40 double votes in the 2020 primaries, but it caught zero instances of double votes in the past three elections held in the city.
At their meeting last week, the city commissioners decided to forego the reconciliation process to ensure a speedy count. They argued the process isn’t required by state law and isn’t necessary anymore, as other measures to detect duplicate ballots are in place and poll workers and voters have gotten used to voting by mail.
So Why the Reversal?
A group of Republicans sued the city to reimplement the reconciliation process. A city judge on Monday declined to force city officials to reimplement the procedure, but Republicans appealed the decision, and the board members felt pressured to reverse course.
“While we technically won the court case in Common Pleas Court…the opinion that was written was written in a way that we have no other choice but to go forward and reinstate reconciliation,” Seth Bluestein, the only Republican commissioner, said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Bluestein and Lisa Deeley, the Democrat who chairs the board, voted to reinstate the process while Democrat Omar Sabir voted against doing so.
Most mail ballots will still be counted on Tuesday, but this decision will mean that roughly 15,000 to 30,000 paper ballots will not be counted on election night so that officials can make sure there is no double counting, according to Bluestein.
“Ballots that we received after the latest updates to the poll books will not get counted tonight while we reconcile the in-person vote with those returned ballots to make sure there are no double votes of somebody voting by mail,” he said after Tuesday’s vote.
The reconciliation process usually takes three days, according to court records analyzed by the Post.
Bluestein blasted Republican attorneys for their lawsuit, which he viewed as an intentional ploy to cast doubt on the timing of election results.
“I want to make very clear that when there are conversations that occur later this evening about whether or not Philadelphia has counted all of their ballots, that the reasons some ballots will not be counted is because Republican attorneys targeted Philadelphia — and only Philadelphia — in trying to force us to do a procedure that no other county does,” Bluestein said.
Republicans Are Waging War on Democracy in Pennsylvania
The lawsuit in Philadelphia isn’t the only tactic Republicans have used to slow the count, spread lies and conspiracy theories, and lay the groundwork to baselessly challenge election results, as they did in 2020.
Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states that does not allow for pre-processing of mail ballots, which means elections officials across the state cannot count or even begin processing millions of mail ballots prior to the polls opening on Election Day.
This was the primary reason why the state’s vote count dragged out for days during the 2020 election. Even still, the Republican-led legislature blocked efforts to allow for pre-processing of mail ballots, which would speed up the vote counting process.
As a result, the process of scanning and counting the more than 1 million mail ballots cast in Pennsylvania this year could take a few days, delaying official results.
“We will not have unofficial results in Pennsylvania on Election Night and that’s a fact,” Leigh Chapman, Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of state, told McClatchy in late October. “We’re expecting at least a few days for results to be final.”
In another assault on voting rights, Republicans have also filed lawsuits seeking to discard any mail ballots cast this year that are undated or wrongly dated. In a response to that lawsuit, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last week that undated and wrongly dated mail ballots be set aside and not counted.
There could be tens of thousands of undated and wrongly dated ballots rejected statewide under that ruling, which could disproportionately impact Democratic candidates, since Democratic voters use the method of voting more than their Republican counterparts.
In response, the campaign of Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman filed a lawsuit on Monday asking a federal judge to rule that all mail ballots be counted even if they’re wrongly dated or undated.
All of these different fights serve the same Republican cause: sow mistrust in the commonwealth’s elections to set the stage to contest the results, just like they did in 2020. Former President Donald Trump and his allies have all but publicly stated they plan to challenge the results of Pennsylvania’s elections if Republicans lose as something of a dry run for 2024, when Trump is expected to run for president again.
So if you see the vote count delayed, if we’re still waiting for a winner on Wednesday, if there’s a flurry of lawsuits in Pennsylvania, remember who’s to blame: The Republican Party.