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Pennsylvania has counted nearly half of all mail-in ballots, secretary of state says

Pennsylvania officials give election update
Pennsylvania officials say state approaching 50% of mail ballots counted 16:01

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said at a press conference Wednesday that the state has counted nearly 50% of its mail-in ballots, with millions more to go.

Upwards of 3 million mail-in absentee ballots were cast in the Keystone State – a 10-fold increase over previous elections, according to Boockvar. "Really could not have gone more smoothly in the middle of a pandemic," she said. "We're exactly where we said we would be."

"We are going to accurately count every single ballot," Boockvar said, noting that military and overseas ballots are still left to be counted.  

In September, the state's supreme court granted a three-day extension period after Election Day for mail-in ballots to be returned. The Pennsylvania Department of State told counties last week to segregate but count ballots received after Election Day, meaning any ballots received during the extension period will be put aside.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request from the state GOP to expedite a review of the state court's decision, but left open the door to a review of the segregated ballots after the election. 

Despite the ruling, one county has said it will not be counting ballots received after November 3. Lancaster County's top elections official, a Republican, sent a letter to Boockvar on Tuesday saying it does not intend to tally mail-in ballots received within the extension because the decision could be overturned by the Supreme Court, which would force them to remove ballots that have already been counted.

The secretary of state said Wednesday that Lancaster's complaint is "not accurate." 

"It is absolutely feasible — and not even challenging," she said. "There are different ways to do it, you can use different machines, you can use different memory sticks, you can absolutely segregate them. That's not going to be a problem."

Boockvar said her office has been in communication with every county and voting system vendor about how to account for ballots received during the extension.

Asked what will happen if a county does not comply, she said, "We'll cross that bridge when we get there. I expect them all to comply."

Both President Trump and Joe Biden see Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes as essential to winning the election, a fact illustrated by their frequent visits during the campaign. Mr. Trump visited Pennsylvania 13 times, while Biden made 16 trips, and both were there on the eve of the election.

As of Wednesday morning, the state remained a toss-up. 

Philadelphia's City Commissioner Lisa Deeley told reporters Wednesday morning that the number of mail-in ballots that have been counted in the city still stands at 141,000, out of a total of more than 350,000. 

Deeley refused to commit to a timeline for completing the count, but said updated numbers would be announced later Wednesday. 

"We're doing the best we can to get that count done as soon as possible," Deeley said. "We'll be done as soon as we're done."

Asked how the city would have fared with counting mail-in ballots if they had been allowed to begin before Election Day, Deeley said "it certainly would have made a difference ... Any little bit would have helped." Pennsylvania's GOP legislature blocked earlier Democratic efforts to allow election officials to start counting absentee ballots before Election Day, contributing to the backlog of ballots that now remain uncounted.

Deeley emphasized that the record-breaking number of mail-in ballots are being diligently counted. "It's going to be accurate, and it's going to get done," she said.

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