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President Trump has blamed voters when complaining about a delayed result in the presidential election, saying some Americans waited too long to send in mail ballots.
“I don’t think it’s fair that we have to wait a long period of time after the election. If people wanted to get their ballots in, they should have gotten their ballots in long before,” he said on Sunday.
But a major delay in counting mail ballots in Pennsylvania — which might be the state that decides the election — will have less to do with ballots that arrived after Election Day, and much more to do with ballots that arrived at election offices before Election Day.
In Pennsylvania, these mail ballots will have been sitting around for days and weeks without being opened. The major cause of a counting delay will be the fact that the state’s Republican legislature refused to act when an easy fix was available to avoid a major delay in counting mail ballots that arrived before Election Day.
Legislators in Pennsylvania knew there would be record amounts of mail ballots because of health concerns over COVID-19. They also knew that election experts everywhere were calling on them to allow election clerks to open mail ballots before Election Day, so they could be quickly counted on Election Day.
Most states in the country — including key swing states like Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona and others — allow mail ballots to be opened weeks before Election Day. This allows election clerks to examine the mail ballot envelopes to check for mistakes and to examine voter signatures to make sure they match the signature on file. If there’s a problem, they can contact the voter to get it corrected.
So those states will report the majority of their mail ballot results quickly on election night, and they’ll be among the first votes reported. And because Democrats have told pollsters they wanted to vote by mail more than Republicans, Democrat Joe Biden is likely to have an early lead in those states. The key metric is how big a lead he’ll have, and how many votes Trump will need to make up as in-person votes are counted and reported.
In Pennsylvania, along with Michigan and Wisconsin, it’s the opposite. The legislatures in those states — all controlled by Republicans — ignored the abundant evidence that election clerks needed at least a week or two to open and process mail ballots so they could be counted quickly on election night.
Wisconsin may be able to have most of its ballots — in person and mail — counted by Wednesday, Nov. 4. But Pennsylvania and Michigan officials have said they will need until Friday to count mail ballots because of the limits their legislatures placed on them.
In both Pennsylvania and Michigan, the secretary of state offices will be reporting how many mail ballots they have counted, and how many are left to be counted.
Trump has tried to distract from all this by complaining about a Supreme Court decision that dealt with a separate issue: whether Pennsylvania can count mail ballots that arrive after Election Day. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, citing U.S. Postal Service delays, ruled that mail ballots that are postmarked by Election Day, or not postmarked or unclearly postmarked, can be counted until Friday, Nov. 6.
The U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 two weeks ago on this issue, which meant the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision stood.
This is the decision that Trump was complaining about on Sunday, when he railed against the court.
“I think it’s terrible when we can’t know the results of an election the night of the election in a modern-day age of computer. I think it’s a terrible thing. And I happen to think it was a terrible decision for our country made by the Supreme Court. I think it was a terrible decision for our country,” he said.
Again, the only decision the court made about mail ballots being counted after the election had to do with ballots received after Election Day. And out of about 3.1 million mail ballots requested in Pennsylvania, more than 2.4 million had already been returned by Monday evening, according to the U.S. Elections Project.
Election officials do not expect to receive back every mail ballot that was requested, and so the number of mail ballots that will be sitting around waiting to be counted on Election Day is far larger than the number that will come in after Election Day.
And it’s the president’s own party that has guaranteed that mail ballots in Pennsylvania won’t be counted until the days following the election.
On Monday night, the president raised the specter of violence in response to the Supreme Court decision, tweeting the baseless claim that there would be “rampant and unchecked cheating” and “violence in the streets.”
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