This article is shared with LebTown by content partner Spotlight PA. This article is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. This article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy.
By Spotlight PA Staff
Welcome to Election Day 2020 in Pennsylvania.
Together with our partners, Spotlight PA has reporters fanned out across the state — from Butler County to Gettysburg to Wilkes-Barre — who will be sending dispatches from polling places throughout the day.
You’ll find those reports below, as well as the latest on any legal challenges, voting issues, or reports of intimidation. Read a note from our editor about what to expect from Spotlight PA’s coverage.
If you experience voter intimidation, illegal poll watching, long lines, problems with voting machines, or any issue, you can send a tip to Spotlight PA as part of a collaboration with ProPublica’s “Electionland” project.
The search for ‘naked ballots’ in Erie County
Workers in Erie County are expected to process about 10,000 mail ballots today, out of roughly 51,000 returned, said County Council Member and Board of Elections Chair Carl Anderson III.
The rest will be counted in the coming days, but today’s process will stop at 11 p.m.
Inside the Board of Elections offices Tuesday morning, 10 workers fielded calls from voters and tried to contact anyone who had sent in a “naked ballot” — one that lacks a required secrecy envelope — or had another ballot issue.
Workers search a database, and if there isn’t contact information, they try to find another way to reach the voter. If the elections office can reach a voter about a problem discovered today, the person may have time to go to their polling place before it closes and cast a provisional ballot, Anderson said.
“If they don’t immediately find them, they do a search to find them,” Anderson said. “They don’t just give up.”
Before noon, election officials had found some naked ballots, as well as ones where the voter had erroneously signed the secrecy envelope, County Council Member and Board of Elections Member Kimberly Clear said.
“To me, it’s an honest mistake, but we can’t have any indicator of whose ballot it is, because it’s supposed to be secret,” Clear said.
During the first three hours of pre-canvassing, under 50 ballots had been set aside as deficient, Clear said. She did not know how many ballots had been pre-canvassed in that time, but she estimated the number of deficient ballots amounted to less than 1% of ballots so far. — Tom Lisi for Spotlight PA and Votebeat
Top election official: Drop off your mail ballot ASAP
During a Tuesday morning briefing, Pennsylvania’s top election official said more than 81% of requested mail-in and absentee ballots had been returned: 1.6 million from Democrats, 586,000 from Republicans, and 278,000 from other voters.
While voters have until 8 p.m. to drop off their mail ballots (find a location here), Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar urged people not to wait, because many counties have a hard deadline to lock drop boxes.
Under a state Supreme Court ruling, counties are allowed to accept mail ballots that arrive by Friday as long as they were postmarked by 8 p.m. Election Day. If a ballot lacks a postmark or has one that is illegible, counties may still count it, as long as there isn’t a preponderance of evidence showing it was mailed too late.
But the U.S. Supreme Court could still decide to intervene in that decision.
“It’s hard to know exactly what the impact would be,” Boockvar said, noting that the Department of State has issued guidance to counties to segregate mail ballots that arrive after 8 p.m. on Election Day.
She said the department is prepared to handle any litigation.
“I have no anticipation of bringing a lawsuit, unless needed, but so far so good,” Boockvar said. “There are many, many excellent lawyers that we work with, and they are prepared on every front.” — Cynthia Fernandez of Spotlight PA
Butler County independent felt ‘duty’ to vote in person
The line of voters at the Pennsylvania National Guard offices in Connoquenessing Township, about 35 miles north of downtown Pittsburgh in Butler County, grew to at least 100 during the 10 o’clock hour as a steady stream of voters moved in and out of the polls.
Kaitie Bouch, 27, described the process as “pretty pleasant.” An independent voter, Bouch said she came in person because she didn’t trust the mail ballots — especially since she frequently receives the wrong mail, even outside of election season.
“I felt like it was my duty to come out in person and make sure I got my vote in,” she said.
Bouch didn’t want to share who she voted for, but described her votes as a “mixed bag” cast for different parties depending on the race. She prioritized issues like protecting the environment, along with safety for first responders and Second Amendment protections.
First-time voter Stephanie Gaurrich, 26, requested a mail ballot but wound up at the polls Tuesday because she didn’t put hers in the mail in time. On her way into the polling place, she said she wasn’t concerned about how her ballot would be handled.
She registered to vote this year because her three children — ages 10, 7, and 12 weeks — are starting to learn about the process and ask questions. It’s important for them to know that their opinion counts, she said.
Teaching them about the voting process does have its challenges, she said.
“It’s hard to voice your opinion without making them feel like that has to be their opinion,” she said. — Jamie Martines of Spotlight PA
Early turnout strong in Harrisburg
“After two hours of a continuous line of voters, the crowds at the Second City Church on Verbeke Street in Harrisburg had finally died down a bit.
‘There were people here around 6:30,’ said Christina Wagner, a volunteer helping to run the polling place. ‘People were still coming in [until 9 a.m.] when it slowly dissipated. This is the first time there weren’t people waiting to get in.’
By 9 a.m., the voters at the midtown Harrisburg polling place were still streaming in regularly, one or two at a time. They were directed to enter in the back of the church, rather than the usual main entrance. They were then ushered through the building and out the front doors, ensuring a consistent one-way flow of traffic for COVID-19 prevention. Masks were provided to any voters who did not have their own.”
‘A lot of turnout’ in Luzerne County
At the Jackson Township Fire Hall in the Back Mountain region of Luzerne County, Amy Grabinski was trying to keep her two young daughters occupied as they waited in line. She said the outcome of the election made her a little nervous, knowing how much it could affect people’s lives.
Betsy Fledermaus said this was her regular polling place and she had never seen such a long line. This election feels”monumental” she said — not only for the U.S. but for the future of the world. Jeffrey Fledermaus said he had taken the day off work to vote, anticipating a long wait.
Bill Hardwick, a volunteer for the campaign of Republican state Rep. Aaron Kaufer, said he had been outside the fire hall since early in the morning, sheltering from the icy wind behind parked cars and trying to keep moving. At one point, he said, the wait was about an hour and a half. “This is a lot of turnout,” he said.
Unlike many people waiting in line, who mostly said they planned to vote for President Donald Trump, Hardwick said he is a Democrat. But he said he likes that Kaufer puts what’s best for the district above party loyalty. Hardwick said he thinks there are more people like him than are willing to admit it — people who could be moderate Democrats or moderate Republicans.
Jim Wood, 51, said voting in person was just something he had always done. “As a citizen, I believe it’s your duty to express your opinion,” he said. Whoever wins, he said he expects “commotion.” But he said he won’t be fixating on the early results. “I don’t let politics consume my life,” he said. — Charlotte Keith of Spotlight PA
Early legal challenges emerge in Philadelphia and Montgomery County
“As the counting of mail-in ballots officially got underway Tuesday in Pennsylvania, disputes over access to the canvassing by GOP monitors and questions over how far election officials can go to alert voters that incorrectly submitted their ballots immediately resulted in legal challenges.
In Montgomery County, Republican lawyers sued in federal court to stop election officials there from contacting voters to correct deficiencies in their mail-in ballots. They also complained that their canvas monitors were being kept too far away from the actual canvassing to provide any meaningful oversight.
The Trump campaign raised similar challenges in Philadelphia’s election court.”
The tedious process of handling mail ballots begins in Westmoreland County
In Westmoreland County, 57,336 voters had returned mail ballots to election officials as of Monday. From the TribLIVE live blog:
“The processing of Westmoreland voters’ mail-in ballots is underway with two assembly lines of seven or eight people in a room at the county courthouse. Around 10:15 a.m., ballots from Allegheny Township voters were being processed.
The process is tedious. One person starts the line by running the envelopes through a machine to open them. Two more people remove the inner secrecy envelope and pass it to another person who runs that envelope through another machine to open it.
A final group removes the ballots from the secrecy envelopes and flattens them. Workers at four stations scan the ballots while a few poll watchers observe the process.”
‘A regular Election Day’ … almost
The good-government group Common Cause Pennsylvania, which is fielding issues of potential intimidation or suppression at the polls, reported around 10 a.m. that voters had not raised any major concerns.
Interim Executive Director Suzanne Almeida said on a press call that the group is hearing typical reports of long lines, often due to polls that opened late, especially among communities that are predominantly of color. Common Cause is also seeing “enthusiastic partisan supporters,” Almeida said, but no evidence of issues it was concerned about. “We’re having what is almost a regular Election Day,” she said. — Kamala Kelkar of Spotlight PA
Election exhaustion in Easton
Jess Wall, a 24-year-old lifelong Easton resident, said she didn’t get her mail ballot until a week ago and didn’t want to risk putting it in the mail and not having it get to the county elections office on time.
A special education teacher, she had the day off because her elementary school is a polling location, and said she spent about 20 minutes waiting to vote.
Twin sisters Bev Febbo and Barbara Simpson, 59, said they didn’t trust the mail ballot process and wanted to be sure they cast their votes in person.
They said they were looking forward to the end of the election.
“It’s stressful,” Simpson said. “I’m tired of the commercials, I’m tired of it all.” — Marie Albiges for Spotlight PA and Votebeat
Pre-canvassing underway in Allegheny County
In Allegheny County, voters had returned 332,820 mail ballots as of Monday. From the TribLIVE live blog:
“Allegheny County spokesperson Amie Downs said in an update shortly after 9:30 a.m. that 80% of the ballots at the county’s warehouse are ‘at some stage of the pre-canvassing process.’ About 105,000 have had the first outer envelope opened, and around 10,000 have been taken from the secrecy envelope. Those ballots are being flattened and scanned.
Downs said the three polling places initially delayed in opening are all now open and operating. Any reports of voting machine issues have been addressed, she said, and most of them were attributed to user error.”
In Lancaster, voters lack trust in mail-in voting
Sarah Paine, 44, and her wife, Kelly, 35, showed up at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Lancaster before 8 a.m. Tuesday hoping for change.
“We wanted to make sure we could see it get counted,” Sarah Paine said of her ballot.
“If I can shop at Walmart, I can vote in person,” Kelly added, though they’d left their three children at home because of the coronavirus. “We are ready for some change, hopefully, fingers crossed,” she said.
Neighbors in line, many of whom said they lived within a few blocks and have been voting at St. Anthony’s for over a decade, said the 15-minute wait in the cold was the longest the line had ever been.
Barbara Lassahn, 59, said she tested negative for the coronavirus before arriving at the polls but was still undecided. She is a life-long Republican, but as she entered through the church doors, she said, “I might change my mind, I don’t know. Give someone else a chance.”
Jonathan Russell, 31, who planned to vote for Biden, came to the polls because he said he doesn’t trust the mail-in ballot system will be handled correctly. Given Pennsylvania’s current elected officials, he said, “I don’t really trust the ‘powers that be’ will be ethical.”
Nearby, at the Lancaster County Convention Center, more than 150 volunteers and staff were spread out in a large ballroom where the sound of high-speed letter openers had already begun churning through mail ballots. More than 80,000 ballots had been returned by Tuesday morning and county commissioners said they expected to get through all of them by 8 p.m. Results are expected to be posted immediately, with in-person results trickling in until 11 p.m.
“This is the biggest Election Day operation in Lancaster history,” said County Commissioner Josh Parsons, an American flag mask pulled over his mouth. “We think the vast, vast majority will be counted today and uploaded tonight.”
A mile away, at St. John’s Episcopal Church, more than 30 voters stood waiting for the polls to open, but within an hour the line had dissipated and voters trickled in leisurely, stopping at a bake sale set up by the church.
Chuck Pinkerton, an Army veteran, said he thought the quiet morning indicated more people had voted by mail because of the coronavirus. Still, it was important for him to show up in person: “You can’t really complain if you don’t go out and vote.”
Dave Martin, 84, a former science teacher at J.P. McCaskey High School in Lancaster, had baked sugar cookies with red, white, and blue sprinkles in the shape of donkeys and elephants for the occasion.
“Depending on which one you eat, one of them is going to give you indigestion,” Martin said jovially. He recommended the lemon bars instead. — Rebecca Moss of Spotlight PA
Luzerne County voters head to polls out of habit, to make sure their vote is counted
By 7:30 a.m., a slow-moving line of about 70 people snaked through the parking lot of the Toyota SportsPlex in Wilkes-Barre, the county seat of closely watched Luzerne County.
Several of those waiting said it was their first time voting here, instead of at smaller locations where the wait is normally shorter.
John Sobeck, who had been waiting about 20 minutes, said he was “kind of impatient” but was voting in-person because he didn’t trust the mail. He wouldn’t put cash in the mail, he reasoned, so why would he trust it with his ballot? Jerry and Bridge Ryan said they live “right up the hill” and were voting in person “out of habit.”
Chris Wolfe, who had just voted, said it was “organized chaos” inside the polling place, with everyone crowded “like cattle in a pen.” He said he had voted straight Republican; in the one instance where there was no Republican candidate, he said he wrote in “Satan.”
Tomar Taylor said he had spent 20 minutes in the wrong line inside because it wasn’t clear which line was for which ward. Because of the confusion, he said, “people ended up on top of each other.” But he said everyone was wearing masks and that it was important to him to vote in person to make sure his vote was counted. — Charlotte Keith of Spotlight PA
Butler County voters say obligation, tradition brought them to the polls
Voters in Cranberry Township in Butler County started lining up around 6 a.m. to be among the first to hit the polls at the Cranberry Municipal Center, which houses three polling locations. Cranberry, about 30 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, is one of the most populous and fastest-growing areas in the region.
Voters exiting the polls — some of whom voted for Biden, while others voted for Trump — said the mood inside was pleasant and volunteers were organized. Most who arrived before the polls opened or shortly after said they were in and out in an hour. Volunteers were wiping down equipment, most people were wearing masks, and voters were distancing as much as possible.
Dave Trapold Jr., 48, was the eighth person at his polling place this morning.
“I felt that it was important to do it in person, versus mail-in or absentee,” said Trapold, who voted by absentee ballot during the June primary because of work obligations.
He’s always voted for the president in person, and he felt it was important to do that today as well to vote for Trump.
“I’d like to see a little more movement in the economy, getting back to where it was before COVID,” Trapold said, adding that he’d also like to see the president do more work on protecting health care for people with preexisting conditions and bolstering Second Amendment rights.
Trapold exercised his right to open carry at the polls Tuesday, but said he often carries a sidearm. His decision to have his gun on him today wasn’t out of the ordinary, he said.
Robert Smith, 82, who cast his vote for Biden, also kept with tradition to vote in-person. He also wanted to make sure his vote got in — he was worried about mail-in ballots arriving in time.
Smith said he’d like to see elections officials take their time and get the count right.
“Don’t just try to make a snap decision,” he said. “Haste makes waste.” — Jamie Martines of Spotlight PA
‘Trust’ is the word of the day in Northampton County
“Trust” was the word several voters in line at St. John’s Windish Evangelical Lutheran Church used when explaining why they were voting in person in Bethlehem.
“I didn’t have confidence in the mail,” said Frank Hostetter, a 60-year-old Air Force veteran who requested a mail ballot just in case he would have to be in Florida on Election Day, tending to his elderly mother.
Instead, he had the ballot in hand, ready to surrender it and cast a vote in person.
Many in line and elsewhere in Northampton County apparently had the same idea. One county election official, who didn’t want to be identified, said polls, including this one, were quickly running out of the forms needed to surrender a mail ballot to cast a vote in person.
For first-time voter Audrey Sickles, distrust in the vote-by-mail option also brought her to the polls. The 21-year-old Lehigh University senior said she was excited to cast her vote in person.
“I want to make sure my vote is counted,” she said.
Joyce Moya and Jack Rosario also said they didn’t “trust” the mail, and were voting in person “to make a difference.”
Their son, who is 11, is worried, they said. He’ll probably watch the unofficial results come in with them after the polls close.
“He knows it’s important,” Moya said.
Hostetter, the veteran, said no matter who wins the election, it’s a “celebration of our democracy.” After casting his ballot about 40 minutes later, he said he felt relieved.
“The process worked,” he said. — Marie Albiges for Spotlight PA and Votebeat
80% of requested mail ballots returned
“Pennsylvania voters have returned 2.5 million mail ballots, according to data from the Department of State. That’s more than 80% of all ballots requested.
More than 3 million mail ballots have been sent to voters. That leaves nearly 600,000 mail ballots that have not yet been marked as returned. In the last week, more than 790,000 completed mail ballots were returned to county election offices.
Nearly 63% of mail ballots were requested by registered Democrats, while Republicans requested about 25%. Nearly 12 percent were requested by registered independents.”
Lack of trust in the mail and a missing mail ballot in York city
Darcelia Tyson showed up to her York city polling place at about 6:15 a.m.
She wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and a mask with the words faith, hope, and love printed on it. She was first in line.
“I didn’t trust the mail,” said the 65-year-old Tyson, who was a child-care worker before the coronavirus pandemic.
York County is solidly Republican. Four years ago, Trump won the county by 29 percentage points or 60,000 votes. But the city of York is solidly Democratic — Hillary Clinton received over 90% of the votes in Tyson’s precinct.
About a dozen voters waited inside a hallway at Crispus Attucks community center just before the polls opened at 7 a.m. A worker with Election Protection, a voting rights organization, waited outside, holding a sign asking people if they had voting questions.
Sebastian Santos, 20, said Pennsylvania’s new mail-in voting system was stressful. He said he requested a ballot multiple times and never received one.
“The system just says that it was delivered on the 13th, and I should have received it,” Santos said. “I didn’t get anything.”
He cast a provisional ballot on Tuesday. That process was easier than he expected, but those ballots can still be challenged.
“It’s a little worrisome,” Santos said. “But I feel OK that I got to say something, contribute a little bit.” — Ed Mahon of Spotlight PA
Why one Franklin County voter came to the polls
Robert Williams, 38, is a registered independent and likes both Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump. A new resident of Chambersburg straight out of the military, he told Spotlight PA that he thinks the president “gets blamed for a lot of things that aren’t his fault, necessarily.”
When asked why he decided to vote in person, in spite of fears of possible intimidation, he said: “I was given an analogy by someone. When you win the lottery, you can either mail in your ticket or drop it off. Why would I mail in my million-dollar ticket?” — Joseph Darius Jaafari of Spotlight PA
In-person voting begins
Hundreds of polls across Pennsylvania opened at 7 a.m. and will remain open until 8 p.m.
In Franklin County, Spotlight PA reporter Joseph Darius Jaafari spoke to Barb Beattie, a member of the town council in Chambersburg. As of 7:45 a.m., Beattie said there was an hour-long line at the Chambersburg recreation center. A constable on duty told Jaafari it’s the longest he’s seen this early.
Amanda Wong, 32, said she decided to come in person rather than vote by mail: “I always vote in person. I’m not overthinking it.”
Votebeat reporter Tom Lisi stopped at Edinboro Community Building, about 18 miles south of Erie. Several voters leaving said the line grew to about 50 people by the time polls opened. Aaron Conley, an IT director and supporter of Democrat Joe Biden, said that’s a bit more than a normal presidential election here.
Everyone wore masks inside, several voters said, but voters stood pretty close together — not six feet apart. Five voters said they voted in-person because they did not fully trust the mail-in ballot system. “I just didn’t want to accidentally fill out something that wasn’t official,” Karly Long, an elementary school art teacher and Biden supporter, said.
An important reminder from Inquirer reporter Jonathan Lai: Issues when the polls open are not unusual or special to 2020.
How to report problems or get voting info
If you need last-minute voting information, you can seek official answers from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling 1-877-VOTESPA. The nonpartisan Election Protection coalition has its own hotline, as well: 866-OUR-VOTE.
If you need to lodge a complaint about something you experience while voting, you can call the state’s hotline (1-877-VOTESPA) or reach the department using this form.
What you need to know before heading to the polls
The big day is finally here. If you’ve already voted by mail, congrats — your work is done.
But for those of you heading out to the polls, here’s what you need to know:
- Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Double-check your polling place here.
- In addition to nonpartisan poll workers, you may encounter partisan poll watchers who are sanctioned to observe polling places. Here’s what they can — and can’t — do.
- Have a completed mail ballot? You can still drop it off today by 8 p.m. Some satellite offices and drop boxes will close before then, so make sure to look up your local details.
- Have a mail ballot but want to vote in person? Bring all of the materials with you to your polling place.
- Requested a mail ballot but it never came in the mail? You can still vote using a provisional ballot.
- If you are facing a last-minute problem and can’t make it to the polls, you may qualify for an emergency absentee ballot. Read about those here.
The word of the day is patience. Election officials can only begin processing mail-in and absentee ballots this morning, which means it may take days to report the full results. Some counties aren’t planning to begin the process until tomorrow. So if you see any candidates or campaigns declaring victory tonight in hotly contested races, chances are their celebrations are premature. — Sarah Anne Hughes of Spotlight PA
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