Counties cannot begin opening these ballots until 7 a.m. on election morning when polls open. While some have already prepared for this reality with additional staff and by testing scanning equipment, not all counties have these kinds of resources.
This means, for example, that some election departments may approach mail-in and in-person ballot counting differently than others.
“Some counties may report mail-in ballots first. Some counties may report in-person votes first. It’s really up to the county,” Chapman said.
Mail-in voters in Pennsylvania’s 67 counties must also respond to a group known as the canvassing commission. This council meets after each election day to verify that each ballot is correctly filled out – and that the voter has provided proper identification – before it is counted. This process can take some time, especially when council needs to follow up with voters about their identity.
Earlier this year, lawmakers greenlighted a grant program with requirements designed to make the counting process more transparent. All counties except four applied for and received a $45 million share of state funding – but they must post the progress of the counting of mail-in ballots online by midnight Nov. 9 and must continuously count all ballots until until the process is complete.
“That level of transparency should eventually alleviate concerns about counts,” said Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), a supporter of the law who created the program, Act 88.
Counties are only required to share the status of the counting process. The results themselves could still take some time and will not be certified by the state until November 28.