Pennsylvania election officials are warning about delays in counting mail-in ballots for a key Senate race in the upcoming midterm elections. The warning comes after similar ballot delays led to claims of a stolen presidential election in 2020.
Election workers in Pennsylvania can’t begin the tedious work of counting mail-in votes until 7 a.m. on Election Day, Bloomberg reported. That means the winner of the toss-up Senate race between Mehmet Oz and John Fetterman may not be clear for days.
“This delay does not mean anything nefarious is happening,” said Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Leigh Chapman, Pennsylvania’s equivalent of the secretary of state. “It simply means that the process is working as it’s designed to work in Pennsylvania, and that election officials are doing their job to count every vote.”
A former county elections official and vote-by-mail activist told Bloomberg “it would be surprising to me if any media outlet were to be able to call the election on election night” if the race is close.
Pennsylvania’s closely-watched Senate race is one of a few that are expected to determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the upper chamber of Congress for the next two years.
The slow counting in Pennsylvania could lead to a “red mirage” where Republican candidates soar early on as Election Day votes are counted, only to be beaten later by mail-in votes. Almost three-quarters of mail-in ballot applications have been from Democrats, according to state data reported by Bloomberg.
Late-counted mail-in ballots were one theme in former President Donald Trump’s claims of a stolen election in 2020, but a potential red mirage is just one reason experts told Bloomberg the Pennsylvania race could stretch long past Election Day.
A recent CBS poll shows just a 2-point margin between the candidates. And Republicans already sued each other back in the primary election over whether mail-in ballots should be counted if voters didn’t put a date next to their signature, as reported by the New York Times.
The state has directed undated ballots to be counted despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision that counting them couldn’t be required, Bloomberg reported. Experts told Bloomberg they fear a scenario where a court decides a close race over the issue of a few thousand undated ballots.
One elections expert told Bloomberg he expects any close statewide race this year to draw recounts and lawsuits.
“Our definition of close is probably broader than it used to be,” said Matthew Weil from the think tank Bipartisan Policy Center. “If it’s within two percentage points anywhere, I think we’re going to see candidates contest those results.”