Will Pennsylvania Decide the 2020 Election?

PA Election: Governor Tom Wolf has called for extended mail-in voting, but he has faced pushback from the Republican-led state legislature.

Voters who remember the 2000 election recall the nightmare scenario: no clear winner on Election Night. The result on November 7 was a toss up with both Al Gore and George W. Bush ready to declare victory. For five long weeks votes were recounted in Florida, the state that would determine the election.

On December 12, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court — with a conservative majority — decided 5-4 to halt the recount and that Bush had won and gave him the election. Yet Gore won 550,000 more votes.

Could Pennsylvania be 2020’s Florida?

Pennsylvania is a key battleground state. In 2016, Donald Trump secured the Electoral College by winning Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan by the slimmest of margins — only half a percent, less than 80,000 votes in total. Pennsylvania hadn’t gone Republican in a presidential contest since 1988, when Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis (D) won only 10 states.

What if 2020 is a replay of 2000, with Pennsylvania at the epicenter? On Sept. 1, a Democratic group, Hawkfish, told Axios on HBO to beware of a “red mirage,” in which President Trump appears to have won from votes at the polls on Election Night, but as mail-in ballots begin to be counted, Joe Biden becomes the likely winner.

“We are sounding an alarm and saying that this is a very real possibility, that the data is going to show on election night an incredible victory for Donald Trump,” said Josh Mendelsohn, the chief executive of Hawkfish.

A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, Thea McDonald, responded, saying this scenario was “an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory.”

McDonald said, “President Trump and his campaign are fighting for a free, fair, transparent election in which every valid ballot counts — once.”

But mail-in votes from large Democratic cities like Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Detroit are not reported until after in-person votes — often days later — because mail-in votes cannot be counted before election day in those states. PA Gov. Tom Wolf, citing the likely volume of mail-in votes, has been trying to get the Republican-led state legislature to allow mail-in votes to be counted as they come in.

The Pennsylvania primary wasn’t decided until several weeks after the June 2 election, leaving many city and state races in limbo. Twelve states do not allow mail-in votes to be counted until Election Day, with Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan among them. In 2016, more than six million votes were cast in Pennsylvania. It is anticipated that about half of Pennsylvania voters will vote by mail in November, with more Democrats voting by mail and more Republicans voting in person. Of the state’s 8.7 million registered voters, 1.1 million are in Philadelphia.

Would President Trump wait weeks for an answer to who won the election or would he claim that the vote had been rigged, as he did about the Florida midterm election? Trump has consistently said he might not accept the election results if he doesn’t win. He has claimed, without evidence, that mail-in voting is fraudulent, despite him voting by mail for years. The assertion was also a theme at the Republican Convention.

The pandemic, which Trump has been downplaying in recent weeks, will factor hugely in the November election. Millions of Americans are expected to use mail-in ballots because of the COVID-19 health crisis.

Pennsylvania has 800,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, but since 2016 the demographics have shifted: Republicans have gained 165,000 new voters and Democrats have lost 136,000. And in 2016, many registered Democrats voted third party — five times the number of votes Hillary Clinton lost by in the state.

With polls tightening post-conventions, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic nominee Joe Biden have all been to PA: Biden to Pittsburgh, Trump to Biden’s birthplace, Scranton and Pence to Philadelphia. Biden made Philadelphia his campaign headquarters in 2019, but the coronavirus pandemic shifted his base to his home in Wilmington, Delaware.

Complicating mail-in voting is the fact that the newly appointed USPS Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, a major Trump donor appointed in June, has made changes that have created huge backlogs in mail. Philadelphia is among the top three most hard hit cities, with many residents not receiving mail for weeks at a time.

On Aug. 29, the Inquirer reported that despite a congressional hearing in which DeJoy said he would cease changes that have caused the backlogs, the problems persist in Philadelphia. On Sept. 1, Pennsylvania lawmakers enjoined DeJoy to immediately return USPS sorting machines, saying in a letter that their removals have caused a delay in mail delivery and could also impact the election.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and all nine Democratic House members and one Republican House member told DeJoy that at least 30 mail sorting machines have been removed from Pennsylvania facilities. Union officials in Pennsylvania told the Inquirer that the lack of machines is still causing delays in mail delivery.

A dozen of the machines were removed in Philadelphia and adjoining suburbs.

How can Philadelphians and voters in the Philly suburbs best secure their votes?

The simplest answer is to vote in person at the polls. Democrats throughout Philadelphia have been applying to be poll workers. PGN spoke to several who were touting their applications to be poll workers on Facebook. Morris Green told PGN that he was concerned that there might be interference by “outside agitators” at the polls, so he signed up. Republican legislators were attempting to allow poll watchers to cross county lines to monitor or, as Green believes, intimidate polling places in largely Democratic areas like Philadelphia.

Green’s niece, Tanya, a college freshman who will be voting for the first time, also signed up. She told PGN that she thought because she was not at high-risk for the coronavirus, it would be a good way for her to “help democracy.”

But if you can’t vote in person, election officials in the state say applying for a mail-in ballot immediately is key. There are several lawsuits about the ballots in PA in litigation, which means ballots will likely not be mailed out until mid- to late-September. But applying now will mean as soon as they are available, they will be mailed out.

Putting ballots in drop-off boxes is the best option. If you choose to mail your ballot, it must be received by Election Day or it will not be counted. Thousands of ballots were rejected in the primary. You have until 5 p.m. on Oct. 27 to get your application to your county election office, either hand-delivered or by mail. Don’t confuse this with the submission deadline for actual ballots themselves. Filled out ballots need to be received by the county election office by 8 p.m. on election night.

The deadline to register for the November election is Oct. 19. If you have a driver’s license or a state identification card, you can apply for a ballot online. Otherwise you will have to request one via USPS.To see your registration or to register online or request a ballot, go to the Pennsylvania Dept. of State, where all the data and options are available.