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Most Pa. counties certify election results by deadline; a few will take longer

Delays aren't unusual and shouldn't affect statewide certification.

  • Emily Previti
Lynn Muchler-Stash, right, an observer with the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania watches as municipal workers sort and count Luzerne County ballots, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

 Mary Altaffer / AP Photo

Lynn Muchler-Stash, right, an observer with the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania watches as municipal workers sort and count Luzerne County ballots, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

(Harrisburg) — Most Pennsylvania counties certified election results Monday, despite complications from the tsunami of litigation that’s overtaken courts across the commonwealth.

Three counties – Berks, Carbon and Schuylkill – expect to wrap up today or tomorrow.

WITF was unable to confirm certification status for seven of the state’s 67 counties Monday night. 

Originally expecting to be a week late, Westmoreland County certified and submitted results Monday evening after enlisting the aid of county workers from other departments to fill gaps in an election office workforce decimated by COVID-19.

The crew worked in double shifts all weekend, when the Department of State and the county’s voting vendor Election Systems & Software provided virtual support and training for the new recruits, according to Commissioner Doug Chew.

Westmoreland did, however, leave out results from a tight state Senate race. So did Allegheny, where WESA reports officials will add votes to results certified Monday. 

Legal experts say minor delays and adjustments for close elections aren’t unusual, and a little extra time afforded a handful of counties shouldn’t significantly affect statewide certification. While state law doesn’t set a deadline for the Secretary of State to certify Pennsylvania election results, that generally happens before the so-called safe harbor deadline Dec. 8 when states across the country seat their electors. 

Some counties also dealt with legal challenges from President Donald Trump’s campaign, which made failed attempts to invalidate thousands of ballots within specific jurisdictions – including Philadelphia, Bucks, Delaware and other counties

The campaign also waged broader challenges – most notably, the case seeking to block certification of the entire state’s election results that was thrown out in a harshly-worded order by a federal judge last weekend. The campaign is appealing that decision

Merely challenging a certain category of ballots hasn’t forced counties to leave them out of their certification in all cases, according to Lycoming County Election Director Forrest Lehman. 

“You file anything you want anywhere, over anything,” Lehman said Monday. “And, you know, we’re seeing a lot of these lawsuits not really go anywhere.” 

Counties have varied in their approaches to handling that situation, though, as well as more binding legal action. 

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito ordered Pennsylvania counties to segregate so-called “grace period” ballots that arrived after polls closed Tuesday, Nov. 3 and before 5 p.m. that Friday. Alito’s directive came in response to a petition from Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers, which the Trump campaign and Republican leaders from other states later joined.

DoS issued guidance similar to the order from SCOTUS. 

Lycoming, Delaware and some other counties submitted separate certified counts for mailed ballots that arrived after polls closed Nov. 3 and by 5 p.m. Nov. 6. 

Other counties — such as Allegheny and Union — did not include those ballots in their certified counts, though, and will instead amend them later. 

DoS has estimated about 10,000 ballots, total, arrived during the so-called grace period. 

President-elect Joe Biden leads in Pennsylvania by more than 81,000 votes.

There has been no widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Election officials from both political parties have stated publicly that the election went well, and international observers confirmed there were no serious irregularities. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security called the election the “most secure” in American history.

And yet, even if the litigation doesn’t offer evidence of wrongdoing — let alone change the outcome of a race — it’s diminishing voters’ confidence in the integrity of the state’s election system, Lehman says. 

“The fact that the litigation still exists at all … is still fueling so much of these ongoing questions and attitudes and beliefs,” Lehman said. “This is a level of voter, you know, paranoia, anxiety [and] distrust that I have never seen.”


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