Why official election results could be delayed by mail-in voting Some states, like Pennsylvania, may be slower to report election results because of laws that don't allow officials to start preparing mail ballots for counting until Election Day.

Why mail voting laws may slow the count in some key swing states

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Today is the last day to make your voice heard with your vote in this year's midterms. But even though it's election night, it might not be results night.


Yeah, because mail-in voting gets more popular each election cycle. It takes time to go through all those mail-in ballots, and states with widespread mail voting include Pennsylvania, where just one election could decide the Senate and where the Republican Party is already pushing to disqualify some ballots.

MARTIN: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang joins us now from Pennsylvania. Good morning, Hansi.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So what is happening there that will likely slow down vote counting today?

WANG: Well, I'm watching two big factors that help determine whether state election officials can report results on election night - one, how many people vote by mail, and two, how much time before Election Day do officials have to process the mail ballots to get them ready for counting? And in Pennsylvania, more than 1.4 million mail-in ballots have been requested for this year's general elections, and Pennsylvania election officials have zero time before Election Day to start processing mail-in ballots. So this puts election officials here at a major disadvantage in terms of turnaround times, especially when you compare them to officials in states like Florida, where both processing and counting ballots starts before Election Day.

MARTIN: So I don't get it. Why can't Pennsylvania election officials start counting mail-in ballots earlier?

WANG: They can't do it because of Pennsylvania state law that says processing cannot start until 7 a.m. local time on Election Day. And by the way, there's the same restriction in Wisconsin, another swing state. You know, a lot of people don't know about or don't pay attention to this processing work. It's often called pre-canvassing. And it can include, you know, checking voter signatures on the return envelope for the ballot, opening the envelopes, taking the ballots out of the envelopes, flattening the ballots and then stacking the ballots so they're ready for scanning. It can sound very mundane, very tedious. But these are all critical steps in ensuring an accurate vote count. And, you know, the Bipartisan Policy Center has recommended setting aside at least seven days before Election Day for this pre-canvassing work.

MARTIN: Wow. Trump supporters made false claims about the validity of mail-in votes in the 2020 election. In light of that, was there any effort to change the law to try to give more time for processing these ballots and give less grist to those who are spreading disinformation?

WANG: Well, in Pennsylvania, there were multiple efforts. But before the midterm elections, Pennsylvania's legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, could not agree with the governor, who's a Democrat, on a legislative package that would include pre-canvassing changes. And Republican state lawmakers here in Pennsylvania did not advance bills that were more tightly focused on pre-canvassing. But, you know, I should note, there is a swing state with similar challenges that recently did make some changes to pre-canvassing. There's a law that passed last month in Michigan that allows communities there with at least 10,000 residents to start pre-canvassing two days before Election Day. But it came too late for some local election officials who had already finalized their plans for the midterms. So really, who knows how long it will take to get results?

MARTIN: Meanwhile, Republicans are already saying that some mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania should be thrown out. Explain what's going on.

WANG: Well, there are thousands of mail ballots that arrived on time in Pennsylvania but may end up getting rejected from final vote counts. The reason is because the envelopes they're in - they don't have dates handwritten by voters, or they have incorrect dates. And the thing is, these handwritten dates are required by Pennsylvania state law. But there is a federal lawsuit over whether that date is enough to disqualify a person's vote. So we'll have to see what happens.

MARTIN: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reporting from Philadelphia on this Election Day. Thanks, Hansi.

WANG: You're welcome, Rachel.

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