Crush of mail-in ballots slows tally as battlegrounds resume counting Wednesday

Originally Published: 04 NOV 20 00:26 ET
Updated: 04 NOV 20 10:55 ET

(CNN) — Four key battleground states — Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan and Georgia — still had tens of thousands of absentee ballots uncounted Wednesday, leaving the White House race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden up in the air.

Election officials in some states, including Nevada and Georgia, called it a night and planned to resume the count in the morning, while some counties in Pennsylvania weren’t even to start tabulating their mail-in votes until later Wednesday morning.

Pennsylvania received roughly 10 times as many mail-in ballots this year than in past elections, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said. Counties have nearly counted 50% of those.

The mail-in ballots, which smashed records this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, are expected to favor Biden, whose campaign encouraged Democrats to vote early, while in-person votes on Election Day may have given Trump an advantage.

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In three key states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — election officials were not allowed to begin processing absentee ballots until on or just before Election Day, after Republican-led state legislatures successfully opposed changing laws to allow earlier preparations like other states.

After Biden spoke early Wednesday calling for patience while workers continued to count, Trump attacked the legitimate counting of votes and falsely claimed he had won in states where millions of ballots are yet to be counted.

The Republican National Committee has prepared for a large-scale legal battle that could come in a razor-thin contest in one of the key states. “We have thousands of volunteer lawyers and several law firms already on retainer in these battleground states,” said RNC spokesperson Mandi Merritt.

Democrats have also amassed their own legal army to fight any potential court battles.

Pennsylvania counting and lawsuits

In Pennsylvania, where officials couldn’t begin processing hundreds of thousands of early ballots until Tuesday, counties made their own decisions about how to prioritize the crush. On Wednesday morning, there were still more than 1 million ballots left to be counted in Pennsylvania, a state election official told CNN.

In the major Democratic stronghold of Philadelphia, where more than 350,000 mail-in ballots had been received, city officials still had hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots left to count on Wednesday morning, Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt said on CNN. He noted that Pennsylvania allows mail-in votes to be received and counted up until Friday.

“We are going to continue day and night until we get every one of those votes counted,” Schmidt said.

Election workers in Luzerne County, a northeastern county near Scranton, stopped counting mail-in ballots on Tuesday evening and will resume Wednesday morning, according to county manager David Pedri. He said the county had counted about 26,000 mail-in ballots of roughly 60,000 cast.

Democratic-leaning Montgomery County, northwest of Philadelphia, planned to count “24 hours a day until completion,” according to county spokesperson Kelly Cofrancisco.

Republicans have filed a lawsuit challenging at least 1,200 absentee ballots in Montgomery County. A federal judge will hear the challenge on Wednesday morning.

Three Republicans observing the processing of mail-in votes described to a federal court how they saw absentee ballots with possible technical issues and believed elections officials might impermissibly try to give voters opportunities to fix ballots with issues that would have caused them to be thrown out. The Republicans alleged that the county had begun processing mail-in ballots too early and was illegally trying to allow voters to fix defects, such as by adding missing inner envelopes.

Also in Pennsylvania, GOP Rep. Mike Kelly and others filed a lawsuit in state court Tuesday evening accusing the Pennsylvania secretary of state of illegally advising that provisional ballots could be offered to absentee voters whose ballots would be rejected.

Officials in the states where ballots were still outstanding urged patience while the results are calculated.

“The President wants this settled. Joe Biden wants this settled. The people of Pennsylvania want it settled,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said on CNN on Wednesday morning. “And the best way to settle this is to count. And to make sure we have an accurate count and to make sure that all legal, eligible votes are part of that process.”


Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said that there will likely be a “much more complete picture,” of Michigan’s results later Wednesday. “We’re on track to have a much more complete picture if not the vast majority of jurisdictions reporting out today,” Benson said during an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon.

In a tweet earlier Wednesday morning, Benson said that “hundreds of thousands of ballots in our largest jurisdictions are still being counted including Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, Warren & Sterling Heights.”

In Wayne County, a key jurisdiction that includes Detroit and its metro area, County Clerk Cathy Garrett told CNN on Wednesday that election officials are still counting votes and would not estimate when they might finish. Currently, the county is reporting more than 609,000 votes — 64% of those cast there — have been counted.

“We’re not in a competition, it’s just very important that we are accurate,” Garrett said. “We will be here until the job is done.”


In Nevada, which Democrat Hillary Clinton won by a slender margin in 2016, the counting of mail-in votes in populous Clark County stopped overnight and was slated to resume at 11 a.m. ET Wednesday, according to the county’s registrar of voters.

Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, is the home of 70% of all voters in Nevada and heavily Democratic.

Nevada will not announce any new statewide results until noon ET Thursday, state election officials tweeted Wednesday morning.

Georgia counting delays

In Georgia, where rules allowed for pre-processing, major counties nevertheless reported backups and sent workers home rather than finish counting overnight.

By 10:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, Fulton County — which is the state’s largest county and includes Atlanta — had counted all in-person votes and stopped counting mail-in ballots for the evening. Officials there plan to resume counting the absentee ballots Wednesday at 8 a.m., Fulton County spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt told CNN.

Fulton County still has an estimated 48,118 absentee ballots left to count, and that doesn’t include ballots received by mail on Tuesday. In neighboring DeKalb County, another Democratic stronghold, election officials there will count 79,000 absentee ballots by mail starting at 11 a.m. ET Wednesday.

Georgia ran into other issues too. A pipe burst early Tuesday morning at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena above the processing room for all absentee ballots in Fulton County, delaying counting there, said county spokeswoman Regina Waller. No ballots were damaged, according to Waller.

A suspected problem with voting tabulation software has caused delays in the counting of as many as 80,000 mail-in ballots in Gwinnett County, which is east of Atlanta, according to a county spokesman. Officials believe the software erroneously identified flaws in the way voters filled out the ballots.

Technology issues in multiple states

Several states had other issues pop up that led to delays in counting ballots. In Outagamie County, Wisconsin, which is outside Green Bay, poll workers on Tuesday were working to transfer votes from around 13,500 misprinted absentee ballots to clean ballots that won’t jam the electronic tabulating machine, the county clerk told CNN.

In South Carolina, a printing error delayed the counting of 14,600 absentee-by-mail ballots in Dorchester County, north of Charleston, until later in the week, state elections officials said. The marks at the tops of the ballots that alert the scanner to start tabulating votes are too small for the scanner to read, said Todd Billman, executive director of Dorchester County Elections.

Election officials sent out a statement Tuesday evening saying that they plan to run the ballots through a scanner again starting Wednesday morning. If that doesn’t work, Billman told CNN, each vote may have to be manually duplicated by a poll worker using a touch-screen voting machine, with a witness observing the process.

An internet outage occurred Tuesday in Osceola County in central Florida, and ballots were taken to the county’s elections office for counting, said Brandon Arrington, a county commissioner. Arrington said he was not sure how much of a delay this would cause or how many ballots were affected. Osceola includes the town of Kissimmee, just south of Orlando.

While election officials expressed concern about the challenges of voting during a pandemic, the battleground states reported that voting at polling places was mostly smooth, with only isolated incidents. Michigan Secretary of State Benson said Tuesday that “precincts are islands of calm,” while the spokesman for Florida’s Broward County Supervisor of Elections said the day was “boring.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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