Nearly one in six registered Pennsylvania voters have already cast their votes by mail in the Nov. 3 general election, state officials confirmed Friday, though counties must wait until polls open on Election Day to begin processing their ballots.
Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said during a media briefing that counties across the state have received more than 1.4 million mail-in ballots from voters as of Friday – roughly half of the 2.9 million mail-in ballots that have been requested by voters, and 16 percent of the 9 million registered voters across the state.
Boockvar said the early return rate far outpaces what Pennsylvania saw ahead of the June 2 primary election, when 1.5 million voters cast ballots by mail.
At this point before the June 2 primary election, just 30 percent of mail-in voters had returned their ballots to counties, Boockvar said.
State officials have urged voters this fall to return ballots promptly to ensure counties receive them by the Nov. 3 deadline.
But the early voting won’t guarantee a speedy count of votes on election night, since Pennsylvania is one of only four states that begins processing mail-in ballots on Election Day.
County officials have appealed to state lawmakers since the spring to give them a head start on opening envelopes and preparing mail-in ballots for counting. But the Republican-controlled General Assembly did not advance a fix when it convened in Harrisburg this week.
They are not scheduled to return to Harrisburg until after the election.
“This would have been a key week to get this done and we’re very disappointed,” Boockvar said Friday.
Boockvar expects most counties to finish their ballot tabulation by Friday, Nov. 6.
Election officials expect that ballot counting will distort results that are available on election night, since Democrats make up a disproportionate share of mail-in voters.
Democrats comprise 46 percent of registered Pennsylvania voters, but requested 63 percent of its mail-in ballots this election.
Voters have until Tuesday, Oct. 27, to request mail-in ballots. But Boockvar encouraged them to apply for ballots this weekend and to drop them off in-person at county election offices, drop boxes or satellite voting sites.
State law requires ballots to be received by county election offices by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
The state Supreme Court ordered counties in September to count ballots they receive up until Nov. 6 as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.
But that order has sparked litigation from Republicans who say it’s unconstitutional. With a fresh legal challenge emerging this week, Boockvar said voters should err on the side of caution and return their ballots before Election Day.
“Do not wait in casting that ballot,” Boockvar said. “Cast your ballot by Tuesday, Nov. 3, and deliver it in person if at all possible.