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York County finishes off most mail ballot counting early

Meanwhile, Chester County faces long night of nonstop counting now required by law.

A woman places ballots into a box in a room full of workers

Chester County, Pennsylvania, election workers count ballots during the June recount of the U.S. Senate primary race between candidates Dr. Mehmet Oz and David McCormick.

Mark Makela/Getty Images

York County wrapped up the bulk of its mail ballot pre-canvassing in less than eight hours, much faster than many other counties in the area.

By approximately 2 p.m., the county had opened and scanned the majority of the roughly 35,000 mail and absentee ballots it had received, Greg Monskie, the county’s chief operations officer, said Tuesday night.

Ballots continued to come in through the county’s drop box until 8 p.m., but Monskie said those will be counted by the remaining county staff tonight and all in-person and mail ballot votes should be uploaded to the county’s website before midnight.

“We have a very good operation,” he said. “In the last five elections we have been done before midnight and we expect the same tonight.

York County treats Election Day as a paid county holiday, and many county employees choose to come help with operations.

Monskie said the county found approximately 1,500 “non-conforming” mail ballots, which includes undated and incorrectly dated mail ballots as well as “naked” ballots which were returned without the inner secrecy envelope. 

Long night of mail ballot counting awaits Chester County workers

Chester County’s counting of more than 60,000 mail ballots will go all night and likely beyond. 

“We estimate it won’t be any later than Thursday morning,” said county spokeswoman Rebecca Brain, referring to when the county would finish tabulating all mail ballots.

Less than 10% of this southeastern Pennsylvania county’s mail votes had been tabulated as of Tuesday afternoon, Brain said.

As of 3:30 p.m., roughly 4,000 mail ballots had been tabulated, deputy elections director Stephanie Saitis said. The county had received roughly 60,000 mail and absentee ballots as of Monday, with more to come after polls close.

Brain said mail ballot results would be uploaded to the county website in batches starting after 8 p.m. Tuesday night.

Under a new state law, Act 88, counties that accepted grant funds from the state had to begin counting mail ballots at 7 a.m. and “continue without interruption” until the count is complete. 

At the county’s central mail ballot counting location in West Chester, three shifts of roughly 40 volunteers each worked to comply with the requirement. The workers made use of 10 high-speed envelope slicers and five high-speed ballot tabulators.

The county did not have an updated figure for how many undated or incorrectly dated mail ballots had been received. Brain said that as of Friday, when 40,000 mail ballots had been returned, just 75 such flawed ballots had been found.

Also unclear is how many mail and absentee ballots had been returned so far on Election Day.

A handful of voter intimidation cases

Chester County is also one of just a handful of counties in the state utilizing drop boxes in this year’s election. Election deniers have organized to watch drop box locations here and in other parts of the state.

Brain said that of the 13 drop boxes that have been open over the past two weeks, the county has received three 911 calls related to voter intimidation.* Two calls, in Avon Grove and Exton, came in on Oct. 25 related to individuals taking pictures of vehicle license plates or writing down the numbers when voters were dropping off ballots.

Another incident occurred two days later in Kennett Square in which a “confrontation” occurred at a drop box.

The status of investigations into the three incidents was not immediately clear Tuesday afternoon.

Smooth counting in Lancaster County after rough primary

Lancaster County’s mail ballot counting operation was humming along smoothly Tuesday morning.

Roughly 41,000 mail and absentee ballots were received as of Monday, officials expect to finish the count by midnight. Ballots received on Election Day will be counted Wednesday.

Elections director Christa Miller said roughly 25% of those ballots had been opened. As of 10 a.m., approximately 300 voters had dropped off mail ballots Tuesday at the election office as they may do until 8 p.m.

Unlike in the primary — when poll workers had to remark thousands of ballots by hand due to a printing error — ballots opened today were being run through scanners without issue.

“Everything is scanning, everything is going well,” Elections Director Christa Miller told County Commissioner Ray D’Agostino, chair of the board of elections.

Roughly two dozen volunteers, overseen by county staff and partisan poll watchers, ensured the number of ballots received from a precinct matched what was recorded, opened the outer and inner envelopes with a high-speed slicer, and flattened out ballots for tabulation machines.

Per an order from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the county is not counting but is setting aside undated and incorrectly dated ballots. Miller did not have an estimate of how many of those ballots the county had received.

He said that Act 88’s requirement to count continuously would not be a major problem for the county, as it has had experience with counting continuously in the 2020 election. 

Across Pennsylvania, more than 1.4 million people requested to vote by mail. As of Nov. 7, 1.16 million absentee and mail ballots had been returned, according to Department of State data.

Before Election Day, some of the state’s largest counties said it would likely take until Wednesday to finish counting absentee and mail ballots.

*Correction, Nov. 9: This article originally misstated the number of drop boxes Chester County provided. It was 13, not 11. 

Spotlight PA deputy editor Sarah Anne Hughes contributed to this report.

Carter Walker is a reporter for Votebeat in partnership with Spotlight PA. Contact Carter at cwalker@votebeat.org.

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