Cindy Ellis waited three hours to cast a vote in person at Sharon Baptist Church in Philadelphia on Tuesday, turning in a mail-in ballot that she’d decided not to use.
“I had to vote in person in honor of my dad,” who died of Covid-19 in August, said Ellis, 43, who works in corporate compliance at a health insurance company and voted for Democrat Joe Biden. “I wanted my vote to be counted today.”
Voters lined up at polling places across Pennsylvania, a state that could decide the presidential race if it’s close. Despite long lines and reports of trouble with voting equipment in some areas, there were no early reports of major problems.
But the final result may be delayed for days because state law didn’t allow counties to start processing more than 2.5 million mail-in and absentee ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day. President Donald Trump has fomented unfounded allegations of fraud if votes in Pennsylvania — especially in Philadelphia, where 76% of registered voters are Democrats — are tallied after Tuesday night.
Trump won Pennsylvania by just 44,292 votes of the 6.1 million cast in 2016. Now, it has the highest chance of any state of becoming the tipping point in his re-election contest with Biden, according to the FiveThirtyEight website.
It also could become the focus of a post-election battle in the courts, as Florida was in 2000.
The outcome in Pennsylvania could come down to whether Biden gets the turnout he needs from Democrats, particularly Black voters, in Philadelphia and its “collar counties” to the east and Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to the west. For Trump, the challenge is to maintain the vote margins of 70% and higher that he won in 2016 from the commonwealth’s smaller towns and rural areas.
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In the 26th Ward in South Philadelphia, where Trump signs abounded, John F., a Trump supporter who asked that his surname not be used, said he could see a line of voters 15 minutes before the polls opened stretching through the parking lot of the Girard Academic Music Program, beyond the school’s gate and down the sidewalk for half a block. Cars drove by flying American flags and honking, he said.
Long lines snaked out of several polling centers in Westmoreland County, about 40 miles east of Pittsburgh, one of the areas that delivered Trump victory in 2016 and will be critical this year.
Sonya Carren, 50, voted in person at McKenna Center in Greensburg. She, too, said she worried that a vote-by-mail ballot wouldn’t have been counted. She said she was initially concerned about the pandemic but decided showing up in person would be safe as long as precautions were taken.
“The biggest thing for me is I have eight children, so I don’t kill babies,” said Carren, who was with her daughter Becka, 19, who voted for the first time. “I’m pro-life. I just can’t vote for anything or anyone who doesn’t support that.”
Hanging over the election is Trump’s extensive effort to delegitimize mail-in ballots by asserting without evidence they are rife with fraud. Twitter even put a warning label on a tweet the president wrote on Monday complaining that a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing for late-arriving ballots to be counted in Pennsylvania could lead to violence.
On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Republicans sued officials in suburban Montgomery County, an area near Philadelphia that’s expected to heavily favor Democrats. The Republicans alleged that the county illegally allowed absentee and mail-in ballots to be counted before Election Day. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Democrats said no ballots were opened or counted but some voters were informed if they’d made mistakes like failing to sign the outside envelope.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner held a news conference on Monday with city officials to assure voters that a task force with lawyers and city police would be ready to respond to any complaints about voter intimidation at the polls — and to warn anyone planning to cause trouble to reconsider.
“If you are planning, in Philadelphia, to try to steal our votes, I’ve got something for you: I’ve got a jail cell,” Krasner said. “This is the cradle of liberty, and nobody is going to steal that from us.”
Partisan supporters showed up at the polls in some places, but there were no widespread reports of intimidation or harassment in the first few hours of voting, according to Suzanne Almeida, interim executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania. The group is helping lead a coalition with thousands of “poll monitors” across the commonwealth.
“We are not seeing the kind of concerns that we may have had in the run-up to today,” Almeida said on a call with reporters. “We are having what is almost a regular Election Day here in Pennsylvania thus far.”
Republicans challenged a state Supreme Court ruling allowing ballots mailed before the election to be counted if they are received within three days after the date, and Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar directed counties to separate any late-arriving ballots for a potential legal challenge.
Philadelphia and other large counties spent millions of dollars for new ballot-processing equipment and added staff to count ballots for 24 hours a day in some cases. Boockvar said she expects the overwhelming number of ballots will be counted “within days.”
Philadelphia officials said counting in the commonwealth’s most-populous county alone “will easily take several days.”
— With assistance by Chris Dolmetsch, and David Kocieniewski
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