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One Week After Election Day, Allegheny County Is Still Tallying Votes

Lucy Perkins
90.5 WESA
Election workers process ballots that needed further inspection, as observers from both parties look on.

While legal fights over election results and vote counting loom large in many swing states that handed President-elect Joe Biden his victory, Allegheny County has largely avoided controversy — even as it prepares for new vote-counting challenges in the coming days.

The county's elections division is still tallying votes from the Nov. 3 election, including military and overseas ballots (which were due at 5 p.m. Tuesday) and sorting through approximately 7,000 remaining ballots that were re-issued to voters after a printing error last month. On Wednesday, election workers will also begin canvassing 17,000 provisional ballots, which are used when a voter encounters a problem at the polls, or if they never received a mail-in ballot.

And at a Board of Elections meeting on Tuesday, members voted 2-1 to count an additional set of 2,349 ballots that could attract legal action in such a divisive election cycle. The ballots in question were mailed in envelopes that the voter didn't date, but that automated timestamps show arrived by the Nov. 3 deadline.

“These individuals applied on time, received their ballots, voted their ballots, returned them on time with their signature, their printed name, their address,” said Allegheny County Elections Director Dave Voye. “The only thing that’s missing is the date.”

Voye noted that while the voter did not date the back of the outer declaration envelope, the county’s ballot-sorting machine timestamped the date each completed ballot when it was received by the elections division. The time stamps for these 2,349 ballots indicates they were received on or before Election Day.

“What does the law say in regard to completing the declaration of the mail-in ballots?” asked Republican County Councilor and Board of Elections member Sam DeMarco.

Allegheny County Solicitor Andy Szefi acknowledged that the law requires the outer envelope carrying mail-in ballots to be filled out, dated, and signed.

“That is the literal wording [of the law],” he said. “Whether that literal wording would lead to disenfranchising a voter who we know otherwise has returned these on time would be an open question.”

Szefi said that as a general rule, “the election code should always be construed so as to favor enfranchisement over disenfranchisement.” Since the county can be certain the ballots arrived in time to be counted, Szefi said, "What we have here is essentially a technicality" similar to other technicalities, like if a voter uses blue or black ink to complete their ballot. “These things have been ruled to be technicalities that shouldn’t disenfranchise voters.”

DeMarco voted against counting the ballots anyway. The other two Election Board members -- County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and County Councilor Bethany Hallam -- voted in favor. County workers will wait two days to count these ballots, to allow time for legal challenges.

Other ballots won't be so lucky: The county received approximately 2,000 "naked" ballots -- those missing the secrecy envelope -- which Voye said will not be counted. There are also 439 incomplete ballots that Voye said were “either completely blank, [had] no signature, or missing all the information": Those won't be counted either.

The county has also not counted 947 ballots postmarked on or before Nov.3 but not received until later in the week. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said such ballots should be counted if they arrived by Friday, Nov. 6, but the U.S. Supreme Court has reserved a final judgment on their fate. The Trump campaign is suing election officials to prevent the ballots from being counted.