The Slatest

The Republican Party Is the Reason It’s Taking So Long to Count Votes in Pennsylvania

A young woman wearing a mask stands in a crowd holding a homemade "Count Every Vote" sign.
A pro–ballot counting protest in Philadelphia on Wednesday. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Why is it taking so maddeningly long to count votes in Pennsylvania? There’s one big, serious reason, and one little reason that’s kind of funny.

The big, not-funny reason: The Republican-held state legislature blocked Democrats from changing rules to allow early votes and mail-in ballots to be pre-processed—i.e., taken out of their envelopes and checked to make sure the right voter filled out the right ballot—for easier counting. The Philadelphia Inquirer just published a blow-by-blow of how that happened, going back to June; here’s the long and short of it:

• In June, with concerns growing that the pandemic would scare many people off from voting in person, the state House considered a bill that would allow pre-processing to begin three weeks before Election Day rather than on Election Day.

• The Republican-controlled chamber approved a version of that bill that would have allowed pre-processing to begin three days before Election Day—but would also have banned the use of drop boxes that would allow voters to submit early ballots without using the postal system. Such drop boxes have been used heavily all over the country this year without being involved in any known cases of fraud.

• Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf refused to accept Republicans’ offer—which was, basically, pre-processing in exchange for making it harder to vote. So the bill died in the state Senate, which is also Republican-controlled. Republicans refused to consider a House bill introduced by a Democrat that would have simply created a 10-day pre-processing window without any other conditions.

Republicans had two primary motivations to stall the negotiations. On the one hand, they—and others in their party across the country—were operating under the assumption that bigger turnout would be good for Joe Biden. On the other, the Trump campaign signaled for months that it was going to try to declare “victory” by suing to halt counting as soon as possible in states where Republican-heavy Election Day votes were set to be counted first. Any bill that made it easier to count votes in Pennsylvania and failed to help suppress turnout was, from the Republican perspective, worthless.

The kicker? On Wednesday, the Republican leader of the Pennsylvania state Senate held a press conference at which he called on the Democratic secretary of state to resign because of how long the vote count was taking.

Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a Pennsylvania Republican effort to overturn a state Supreme Court ruling that allows mail-in ballots to be counted so long as they’re received by Nov. 6, which is Friday. In Michigan and Wisconsin—which likewise were limited in their pre-processing—only ballots received on or before Nov. 3, Election Day, could be counted. Those states are now mostly done with their tallies.

And here’s the smaller, funny (“funny”) part. In Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County, there are mail-in ballots that need to be reviewed by a special board that, by statute, cannot begin working until Friday. The reason those ballots need to be reviewed is that the company that was contracted to send them out initially sent 30,000 voters the wrong ballots; those votes now require extra scrutiny to make sure no one double-voted or voted in the wrong races because of the mistake. The Ohio-based company that made the mistake is owned by Trump supporters who, at one point, flew a Trump 2020 flag over its headquarters.

In summary, the Trump campaign is responsible for the long counting period that the Trump campaign and its supporters are now complaining about, because its plan was to force a Bush v. Gore–style shutdown of the count. But because of the total lack of any plausible legal reason to do so, and perhaps because of the hostile political environment created by the campaign’s seemingly tiny chances of winning the election overall, it has not been able to get any traction to actually carry out its plan.

Too bad!