HARRISBURG (AP) — A week ahead of the Nov. 3 election, applications in the presidential battleground state of Pennsylvania for mail-in or absentee ballots exceeded 3 million, with Tuesday the last day to request one and legal wrangling creating uncertainty over the deadline to receive them.
State data shows that, of those applications, about 1.9 million, or more than 62%, have been returned to counties.
More than 9 million Pennsylvanians have registered to vote, a record high. If turnout is 70%, which was the rate in 2016′s presidential election in Pennsylvania, that means 6.3 million people will vote.
The majority of people, 1.9 million, applying for mail-in or absentee ballots are Democrats, according to state data. About 760,000 are Republicans and 350,000 are registered independents or third-party voters.
Abby Leafe, a registered Democrat who lives in suburban Philadelphia’s Bucks County, checked her mailbox Tuesday in vain for her mail-in ballot.
“I am desperately, desperately waiting for my ballot to arrive,” said Leafe, a 46-year-old market researcher from Newtown, one of the millions of suburban moms that both parties hope to reach this year.
Leafe hopes to vote by mail, but will go to the polls if need be.
“Making sure we have free and fair elections is worth getting COVID for,” she said.
The crush of mail-in votes is a record, more than 10 times the amount received by counties in 2016’s presidential election when President Donald Trump edged out Democrat Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, helping him win the White House.
This year, Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democrat, are locked in a battle to win Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, with Trump warning that the only way he can lose Pennsylvania is if Democrats cheat. Democrats counter that Trump is mounting a massive voter intimidation and suppression campaign in Pennsylvania.
Counties have staffed up and bought new high-speed sorting equipment to process the ballots as they prepare to hold an election with fast-rising coronavirus numbers, new voting machines and the U.S. Supreme Court potentially deciding the return deadline for mail-in ballots.
In that lawsuit, Luzerne County on Tuesday asked Justice Amy Coney Barrett to recuse herself from consideration of the state Republican Party’s request that the U.S. Supreme Court block counties from counting mailed-in ballots received up to three days after the Nov. 3 election.
The filing by Luzerne County came shortly after Barrett was formally sworn in as the Supreme Court’s ninth justice.
The justices last week divided 4-4 on the GOP’s request to put a hold on the deadline extension, which left it in place while justices decide whether to consider the underlying case. There is no timeline for them to vote on whether to take the case, which seeks to return the deadline to the one in state law, which is when polls close on Election Day.
The state Supreme Court ruled in September that county election officials must count mailed-in ballots that arrive up until Nov. 6, even if they don’t have a clear postmark, as long as there is no proof it was mailed after the polls closed.
Meanwhile, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration pushed back on Trump’s claims in his three rallies on Monday in Pennsylvania.
Trump claimed that Wolf’s administration tried to prevent him from holding rallies, but the administration said it had had no contact with the campaign about its rallies Monday. Trump’s campaign presumably deals with property owners and local governments, Wolf’s office said.
Trump also complained, falsely, during a rally in Allentown the day before and on Twitter overnight that Philadelphia is blocking his campaign from having observers at polls.
“We can’t have poll watchers, the judge said,” Trump told rallygoers. “They fought us on that, they didn’t want people watching them count.”
Trump’s campaign has not been blocked from having poll watchers.
Rather, Trump’s campaign sued Philadelphia’s elections board to force it to allow campaign representatives to monitor satellite election offices, where people can register to vote, apply for a mail-in ballot, fill it out and return it.
A Philadelphia judge and a statewide appellate court judge both reached the same conclusion, that Pennsylvania law does not allow such monitoring of those activities.
Wolf’s top election official, Kathy Boockvar, suggested Trump is spreading disinformation and said every county will appoint poll watchers before Election Day.
“Philadelphia and every other county in the state can have poll watchers,” Boockvar said at a news conference Tuesday. “That hasn’t changed. His tweets, again, voters need to ignore the disinformation. There’s so much disinformation out there, people should not retweet, should not repost, this information is inaccurate. Pennsylvania has very clear laws.”