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Pennsylvania county explains vote-counting pause, says staff doing administrative work before resuming Friday


Allegheny County, Pa., officials on Wednesday clarified that officials were not “taking today off” counting mail-in ballots as voters await election results from the battleground state.

New York Times journalist Trip Gabriel on Wednesday tweeted that the county “elections staff is taking today off for ‘administrative work’ and will not resume count until Friday,” citing a quote from Allegheny County councilmember Bethany Hallam and an email from the county. Gabriel’s since-deleted tweet had 17,600 retweets and 22,500 likes.

A Pennsylvania federal court ruled that ballots cannot legally be counted until Friday at 5 p.m. Election officials will be completing administrative work in the meantime before the Return Board of Elections arrives tomorrow morning to process the remaining ballots, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said during a Thursday press conference.

“They will be viewed by the public, by the poll watchers, by all parties who will be there to look at those ballots as the Return Board behind to process those ballots,” Fitzgerald said.

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Gabriel apologized to the “hard-working” Allegheny County election staff in a follow-up tweet Wednesday, saying, “My earlier tweet missing important context. The delay in counting is required by state rules and court orders. No one’s taking the day off.”

At 9 a.m. ET on Friday, the Return Board will begin examining more than 6,000 mail-in ballots with various issues including damage, missing secrecy envelopes and so on. About 29,000 ballots waiting to be counted were put on hold after a contracted vendor sent the wrong ballots to voters, meaning a total of some 35,000 remaining ballots are expected to be counted Friday.

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“When ballots require special scrutiny, the county records the vote through a return board whose members are sworn in for that purpose,” local reporter Chris Potter tweeted. “The board reviews the results tallied up by election workers after polls close, but also addresses provisional ballots, military ballots, etc.”

Fitzgerald said Allegheny County received 500 ballots on Wednesday and still needs to organize those postmarked before election day. It also needs to count provisional ballots. In the spring primary, Allegheny had 5,000 provisional votes. It expects to find between 10,000 and 15,000 provisional ballots when it opens the boxes.

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The Trump campaign on Wednesday sued the state to temporarily halt ballot counting until poll observers had better access to the process.

In one lawsuit, the campaign complained one of its representatives was kept so far away that he could not see the writing on mail-in ballots that were being opened and processed in Philadelphia. A judge dismissed it, saying that poll watchers are directed to observe, not audit. The campaign is appealing.

Allegheny County mail services workers, process some of the mail-in and absentee ballots received at the Allegheny County Election Division's Elections warehouse in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Allegheny County mail services workers, process some of the mail-in and absentee ballots received at the Allegheny County Election Division’s Elections warehouse in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

In another lawsuit, the Trump campaign disputed the state’s guidance over the timeline for voters to provide proof of identification for a mail-in or absentee ballot that arrives within three days after polls close.

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The campaign also sought to intervene in an ongoing Supreme Court case over late-arriving and potentially crucial mail-in ballots. Separately, Republicans accused the Wolf administration of changing vote-counting rules on the fly, mounting several court challenges that remained pending Wednesday.

“Bad things are happening in Pennsylvania,” Trump’s deputy campaign manager Justin Clark  said in a statement.

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Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf accused Republicans of seeking to undermine confidence in the election results, and his elections chief said the state acted legally and properly to ensure a complete and accurate count. More than 2.6 million mail-in ballots were cast, and there has been no report of fraud or any other problem with the accuracy of the count.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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