At least seven counties in Pennsylvania plan to wait until the day after the election to begin counting mail-in ballots.
Their decisions, which could delay Pennsylvania election results longer than already anticipated, led the state's top election official to call on all counties in the state to begin processing mail-in ballots on Election Day.
"We are reaching out to all the counties to explain why this matters, why it — even if you could only do part, to get started as early as humanly possible on Election Day — it matters for every single county of any size," Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said.
Election officials in these counties say their staffs aren't large enough to run an in-person election while also tabulating mail ballots, which take much longer to count.
"Our decision is based on county staff and availability of people to work both the polls and start ballot processing," said Mike Belding, Green County commissioner.
Boockvar said those kinds of concerns are disingenuous, since federal grants had been made available to help the counties increase their staff before the election. She said four of the seven counties hadn't applied for the grants, and she mentioned that private foundation funding remains available.
"We've got the federal funds sitting in accounts," Boockvar said. "We've got private foundations saying they're ready to grant funds."
Still, officials in Beaver, Cumberland, Franklin, Greene, Mercer, Monroe and Montour counties told CBS News they don't plan to count mail ballots before November 4.
Officials in two of the counties, Franklin and Monroe, said that on Election Day they will begin some pre-canvassing activities, like opening the outer mail ballot envelopes, but will wait until the following day to tabulate the ballots inside them.
Counties across the state repeatedly asked the state legislature to allow them to begin this work weeks ahead of the election in order to help avoid delays. Despite voicing public support for early pre-canvassing, the Republican leaders of the state House and Senate and Pennsylvania's Democratic governor were unable to reach a deal.
All but one of the counties, Monroe, have more registered Republicans than Democrats and supported President Trump in 2016. In total, the counties account for over 550,000 registered voters. In the state's first general election with no-excuse mail-in voting, 3 million Pennsylvanians have applied to vote by mail, about a third of the state's registered voters.
Boockvar and Governor Tom Wolf have both said they expect the majority of the state's mail ballots to be counted by the Friday following the election. Counties will continue accepting mail ballots until that day, unless the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the state's three-day extension to receive ballots beyond Election Day, as the Pennsylvania GOP has asked it to do.
During the June primary, when a mere 1.5 million Pennsylvanians voted by mail, some counties took two weeks to finish counting their ballots. As a result, in 10 other races on the ballot, the candidates who were leading on Election Day ended up losing once the count was finished.
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