Pennsylvania counts ballots after a light-on-drama primary
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Election officials worked through a mountain of still-uncounted ballots Wednesday after a Pennsylvania primary that was held amid civil unrest, a pandemic, the introduction of some new voting machines and the debut of mail-in balloting that pushed county bureaus to their limits.
The result of the highest-profile contests on the ballot were a foregone conclusion: President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, uncontested for their parties’ nominations, won their Tuesday primaries.
With the flood of mail-in votes still being counted, The Associated Press called four races in which incumbents lost, all of them in Democratic legislative primaries. Beaten were Sen. Larry Farnese and Reps. Maria Donatucci and Roni Green of Philadelphia, and Rep. Adam Ravenstahl of Pittsburgh, brother of the former mayor.
AP has not called a number of races where the contest was close or had a large number of votes yet to be counted, or both. Those races included several where incumbent state lawmakers trailed in the count Wednesday afternoon and the only competitive primary among the statewide races, a six-way race in the Democratic primary for auditor general.
Candidates in the other two other statewide races on the ballot, attorney general and treasurer, were uncontested.
All 18 of the state’s members of the U.S. House are seeking reelection, although only two had primary opposition.
Both of them, Pittsburgh Democrat Mike Doyle and Bucks County Republican Brian Fitzpatrick, won their primaries. In the Allentown-based 7th District, Lisa Scheller won the Republican primary to take on Democratic Rep. Susan Wild in the November election, while Christine Finello won the Democratic primary to challenge Fitzpatrick and Jim Bognet won a six-way Republican primary to take on Democratic Rep. Matthew Cartwright in northeastern Pennsylvania.
In the Legislature, all 203 House seats and half the 50-member Senate are up this year. Two state House members, Democrat Carolyn Comitta of Chester County and Republican Cris Dush of Jefferson County, won contested primaries for open Senate seats.
Primary voters also picked delegates and alternates for the two major parties’ presidential nominating conventions.
The lack of drama in the outcome of the presidential contests and the massive mail-in vote produced light in-person turnout throughout the state. With counting continuing Wednesday morning, turnout passed 1.7 million, or almost 20% of the state’s 8.6 million voters. Meanwhile, deadlines to accept mailed ballots were extended into next week in Philadelphia and six counties that are home to a total of 3.8 million voters.
Ultimately, more than 1.8 million voters applied for a mail-in or absentee ballot, smashing expectations by state officials for the debut of the state’s new vote-by-mail law and drawing warnings that many contest results would be delayed.
Voters in some places dealt with late-arriving mail-in ballots and a dramatic consolidation of polling places in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Montgomery County to cope with the difficulty of recruiting poll workers fearful of the coronavirus.
Lawmakers voted to postpone the primary election from April 28 to avoid the height of Pennsylvania’s spike in coronavirus cases, and candidates and political parties had urged voters to cast ballots by mail.
Officials in Philadelphia and its suburbs, in particular, had been concerned that voters wouldn’t receive their ballots in time for the post office to return them in time.
Two heavily populated suburban Philadelphia counties on Tuesday won court decisions extending the counting of mail-in ballots, a day after Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, issued a similar order for Philadelphia and five counties that have experienced protests over George Floyd’s death.
In Bucks County, home to 461,000 registered voters, a judge ruled that the county can count any ballots that arrive by June 9, as long as they are postmarked by June 1. In Delaware County, home to 405,000 voters, a judge gave the county an extra 10 days to count the ballots of about 400 voters whose ballots had not been mailed to them before Tuesday.
Wolf’s order to extend the deadline for counting mail-in ballots for a week is limited to Philadelphia, Allegheny, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie and Montgomery counties, where his emergency declaration over the protests was active as of Monday.
Meanwhile, 22 counties road-tested new paper-based voting machines, ordered by Wolf in 2018 as a bulwark against election meddling.
Despite the challenges, the Department of State said the election had gone smoothly.