With Voting Finished, Days-long Tabulation Process Begins

Every vote must be counted to ensure Pennsylvanians’ voices are heard

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Nov. 3, 2020) — Polls have closed and voting may be finished, but tabulation of all the votes cast in the 2020 general election could take several days because of the high number of mail-in ballots, according to the nonpartisan Pennsylvania Election Protection Coalition.

“This election was unlike any before it — a high-turnout presidential election during a global pandemic amid periods of civil unrest, and all while the eyes of the nation were focused on Pennsylvania as one of the key battleground states,” said Suzanne Almeida, interim executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, which is heading up the coalition effort in Pennsylvania.

The coalition reported nearly 3,000 calls to its toll-free hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE, by the time polls closed at 8 p.m. By comparison, the coalition received 1,340 in the June primary election. Since launching in October for the general election, the hotline has logged more than 22,000 tickets.

Among the issues: Several polling places opened late. High turnout meant long lines, which remain active at some locations. (Any eligible voter in line by 8 p.m. is permitted to vote.) Voters spoiled mail-in ballots at high rates, and some poll workers were confused about how to process those ballots. Non-English-speaking residents faced language access issues at a few polling locations. Some voters expressed concern about imposing constables, others reported feeling harassed. Some precincts reported mechanical problems or ran out of supplies.

While all of these issues are concerning, none of them are too far out of the ordinary for issues that arise during any normal election year — and this year was far from normal, with many expecting the worst in terms of potential disruptions and possible conflict. And while Election Day may be finished, the work of the Election Protection Coalition will continue.

“This election is not over until every vote has been counted,” said Sara Mullen, advocacy and policy director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Every vote matters — whether you chose to vote by mail or show up in person — and we will work to guarantee an accurate count in Pennsylvania, no matter how long it takes. With an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots, we owe it to every Pennsylvanian to ensure that their voices heard and their votes count.”

More than 3 million Pennsylvanians requested mail-in ballots for the general election — and that means it could take days to tabulate all the ballots for a final result. Similarly, with 9 million registered voters, some 6 million voters could have turned out in person on Election Day. Long lines demonstrated an intense interest in this election.

Given the unique circumstances of this election and the year in general, the coalition launched a Vote Guardian program that focused on 13 counties — Allegheny, Berks, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Washington, Westmoreland and York. Vote Guardians were on-the-ground volunteers, wearing identifiable colors in each region, who were on the lookout for any threats of real or perceived intimidation, and trained to deescalate the situation while serving as a frontline defense for voters. There were no confirmed reports of intimidation.

“Black voters and other communities of color showed up to shape the kind of country we all want to live in,” said Salewa Ogunmefun, civic engagement & political manager for the Center for Popular Democracy, which led the Vote Guardian project. “Now we will continue to make sure that election officials count every vote. This election is about more than the presidential candidates. This is about our communities. Our voices will be heard and our voices will be counted.”

The Pennsylvania Election Protection Coalition toll-free hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE, will remain active until results are finalized, although voters may need to leave a message and wait for a callback because of call volume.

About the Pennsylvania Election Protection Coalition:

The coalition is led by Common Cause Pennsylvania and includes ACLU-Pennsylvania, Keystone Votes, University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security, All Voting is Local, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Fair Elections Center, CASA, Make the Road Pennsylvania, One Pennsylvania, Committee of 70, SEAMAAC, the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP), Pennsylvania Chapter of Moms Demand Action, and the National Urban League.