WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — The Pennsylvania primary election is now only days away and state and local election officials say there could be delays in the final vote count for many races across the commonwealth.
The reason is a huge response to the first ever vote by mail option in Pennsylvania. Officials tell Eyewitness News counting those ballots will be time consuming. Eyewitness News is told those numbers are impacted by concerns over COVID-19. Election officials say many voters did not want to go to a polling place to vote so they voted by mail. Now the challenge is to count those ballots and that could take some time.
“We will not have the results on election night. That’s going to be a change from the way we normally handle things,” said Luzerne County Manager Dave Pedri. “We have over 53,000 people who have voted by mail-in ballots in Luzerne County. That’s 70 percent of the turnout in the 2016 primary.”
The mail-in ballots must be at the Luzerne County Election Bureau by 8 p.m. on election night. A postmark does not matter. Ballots can also be placed in drop boxes at the Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton post offices as well in the lobby of the county owned office building – Penn Place. The counting begins after the polls close.
We will get all the results in at 8 p.m. The state will not allow us to start counting until 8 p.m. so once that information comes in, we start counting and then we are going until the late hour and come back the next morning and do it again,” Pedri said.
The county can pre-canvass open the ballots at 7 a.m. meaning they can open the envelopes and get them ready to feed into a computer to count the actual vote.
“We have over 53,00 mail-in ballots coming. Inside we have three machines working at between 3,000 an hour. You’re going throughout the night to get results. When we get them they will be accurate,” Pedri said.
And Luzerne County is not alone facing this counting challenge. A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of State tells Eyewitness News that as of late Friday 1.8 million mail-in ballots have been received by the commonwealth’s counties.
A spokesperson for the department says the state expected this kind of response, saying: “We do expect that because so many Pennsylvanians have chosen to vote by mail ballot, the reporting of unofficial election results will not be complete until after Election Day. It is far more important to be accurate than to be fast. We will ensure that every vote is counted and verified. In the case of close races it is likely we will not know on election night who won their party’s nomination.”
All counties must have a paper ballot backup as a receipt in that count. Also, in the pre-canvassing operation that will start at 7 a.m., representatives from both parties and even the candidates can witness the ballots being prepared for the count later that night.
Eyewitness News will be covering all the key races after the polls close.