Philadelphia vote count faces delays after GOP challenge

Philadelphia officials voted in an emergency meeting Tuesday morning to reinstate a security measure that could dramatically slow the vote count in Pennsylvaniais the most populated city.

The Philadelphia Board of Elections voted 2-1 at a meeting of city commissioners around 7 a.m. after a conservative group filed a lawsuit challenging its decision last week to scrap a time-consuming process for prevent possible double votes from being counted.

“I want to make it clear that when there are conversations that take place later in the evening about whether or not Philadelphia has counted all of its ballots, the reason that some ballots will not be counted is that the Republican lawyers targeted Philadelphia, and only Philadelphia, trying to force us to do a procedure that no other county is doing,” said Seth Bluestein, the only Republican commissioner, before voting to reinstate the process.

The procedure, known as poll book reconciliation, requires temporarily halting the counting of votes to scan the poll books into the voting system to ensure that those who voted in person do not have also voted by mail.

Philadelphia is the only one of the Battleground State’s 67 counties to use the procedure when counting. Bluestein said Tuesday afternoon that there are “potentially 20 to 30,000 absentee ballots that will be processed on an ongoing basis after they are reconciled with the poll books.”

A voter registers at a polling place in Philadelphia on Tuesday.Michelle Gustafson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

While the process garnered a handful of double votes in the 2020 election, it found none in the last three citywide elections, according to court documents.

Commissioner Lisa Deeley testified at a hearing last week before Common Pleas Court Judge Anne Marie Coyle that she did not believe the process was necessary because election workers had been better trained and any unnecessary delays in the counting of the votes could jeopardize a $5 million grant the city had obtained from the state.

In a ruling on Monday, Coyle, a Republican, lambasted the commission for the eleventh-hour decision, accusing it could encourage fraudulent voting and that the panel had “failed to consider the harm to the public perception of our electoral process which could reasonably result from the defendants’ belated public announcement of the removal of their previously touted and publicly used policy.”

She also criticized the argument that no double votes were seen in the last three municipal elections, which she said were “little attended and minor”. Turnout was expected to be much higher on Tuesday, with the hotly contested Senate race between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz.

Despite his remarks, Coyle ruled in favor of the board, saying it was “not remotely possible” to order the process reinstated at “this late date” as it would “cause harm and hardship to the administration of electoral processes that are used “Across the city.

The judge cited the Deputy Commissioner’s affidavit which stated that the reconciliation process “requires, at a minimum, the prior hiring, training and deployment of at least seventy full-time workers who are prepared to working continuously at night after the next elections”.

Bluestein said the commission felt pressure from the judge’s decision to reinstate the process. “While we technically won the trial in the Court of Common Pleas, the opinion that was written was written in such a way that we have no choice but to go ahead and restore reconciliation,” he said.

Deeley, a Democrat, also voted to restore the policy. Another Democrat, Omar Sabir, voted against.

Derek Lyons, the leader of the Republican group that led the lawsuit, welcomed the reversal in a statement Tuesday. “Completing the audit will protect the integrity of our tally,” said Lyons, a former Trump White House official who is now the CEO of Restoring Integrity and Trust in Elections.

He also said his group has been trying to work with Philadelphia election officials for weeks, and “if there are any delays, only the commissioners are to blame.”

Matthew Sanderson, an election lawyer in Washington, predicted the change wouldn’t have a huge impact on the time it takes to tally votes because the city has already used the process.

He said the replay is a net positive because “you never want to sacrifice accuracy for speed,” but the trial has put election officials in “an untenable position.”

“If you really care about election security, this decision should be applauded,” Sanderson said, but Republicans will use the additional delay as “cause of suspicion” even though they were the ones who demanded it.

“It has nothing to do with an actual problem,” Sanderson said. “This is about undermining trust in the election.”

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