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At least 2 Pennsylvania counties won't count mail ballots until after Election Day

Supreme Court rules on mail-in ballots
Supreme Court rules on North Carolina and Pennsylvania mail-in ballots 08:04

Americans may have to wait beyond election night to find out who won Pennsylvania, since at least two counties in the state will not begin counting mail-in ballots until the day after the election. 

Election officials in Cumberland and Butler Counties, both of which are heavily Republican, say their staffs are simply too small to tally mail ballots while at the same time running Election Day operations. 

Under state law, it's legal for these counties to wait. They're allowed to open mail-in ballot envelopes, check signatures and scan ballots — a process known as "pre-canvassing" — on the morning of Election Day, but they must wait until polls close at 8 p.m. to report results. 

The decisions from Butler and Cumberland come as the nation adjusts its expectations on when it will know who won Pennsylvania, a state worth 20 electoral votes. In the state's primary, the first election in Pennsylvania that allowed any voter to vote by mail, some counties took two full weeks to tally their results. As a result, candidates in 10 races who were winning on primary day ended up losing after the votes were finally counted. 

In Cumberland County, outside Harrisburg, the board of elections issued a release Wednesday saying it would not begin canvassing until 9 a.m. November 4. And in this case, that includes all of the pre-canvassing activities, a county spokesperson told CBS News.

Daniel Camp, the chair of the Beaver County commissioners, said its elections office has only six to eight employees and won't be hiring extra help to count ballots. 

"We have to have all hands on deck during the election," he said. "We want to make sure we secure the integrity of the election. We don't want just anyone opening ballots." 

Camp said the county expects to finish its tally of ballots received by Election Day by Friday, November 6. 

Even if Cumberland and Butler delayed results, they still may not be the last of the counties to finish their count. Combined, the two have 205,000 registered voters — less than a fifth of the number in Philadelphia, where officials took two weeks to finalize the primary results.

Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said the law allows counties to wait as long as the Friday after the election to begin counting and at this point, she's aware of only two counties that plan to wait a day before beginning to count. 

"I'm going to strongly urge every single county to start pre-canvassing the ballots on Election Day," she said on a call with reporters Wednesday. "Because it's going to take a while. And the sooner they start, the sooner they'll finish." 

The state has always expected some mail ballots to remain outstanding on the night of the election. Amid concerns of mail delays, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in September extended the deadline for ballots not postmarked after Election Day. 

Boockvar expects the majority of the ballots to be tallied by the Friday following Election Day, despite the extension.

Camp also blamed the Pennsylvania legislature for the expected delay, since it would not change the election law to allow counties to begin pre-canvassing before Election Day.  

"Our Board of Elections lobbied state officials to change the election law to allow us to pre-canvass a couple days in advance," he said. "We wanted to speed up the process." 

Other local election officials across the state also pleaded all year with the legislature to let them begin pre-canvassing ahead of Election Day, as is allowed in at least 18 other states. But negotiations between the GOP-led state legislature and Democratic governor led nowhere. 

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misidentified Daniel Camp as the chair of the Butler County commissioners. He is the chair of the Beaver County commissioners. The story has been updated.

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