Happy Election Day.
After months of the permanent campaign, tens of millions of dollars in advertising, enough heated rhetoric to keep Erie warm in January, and the deaths of trillions of innocent electrons in service to news coverage of all of the above, we’re finally here. It all ends after 8 p.m. tonight.
While hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians will descend on volunteer fire halls, township and borough buildings, and schools to cast their ballots, officials repeatedly have warned that thanks to state law governing the counting of mail-in ballots, it likely will take several days before winners are declared in key races for U.S. Senate, the governor’s office, the U.S. House, and the General Assembly.
With that in mind, here are some of the key storylines that we’ll be following this Election Day, and, more than likely, for the rest of the week.
1. The Battle over the Ballot
Late Friday, Pennsylvania’s long-running political argument over whether to count undated mail-in ballots landed in the lap of a federal judge.
As the Capital-Star’s Peter Hall reports, a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania asks a judge to bar Pennsylvania election officials from rejecting mail-in ballots solely on the basis of a missing or incorrect date or from certifying election results without counting such ballots.
It is the latest in a series of suits that have so far left officials without a clear answer on whether Pennsylvania’s vote-by-mail rules comport with federal law.
While the dating issue has been batted from court to court, providing full employment for elections attorneys, there has yet to be a decision that’s resulted in a precedent, Hall reported Monday.
The most recent development found the state Supreme Court ordering counties not to count the ballots, but to segregate them. Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of state, Lehigh M. Chapman, reaffirmed that order during a news conference on Monday.
And while that’s going on, state officials and election advocates as recently as Monday once again urged patience as they reminded voters that election workers won’t be able to start counting those mail-in ballots until the polls close at 8 p.m. tonight.
“It’s crucial every voice is heard in this election and that means counting every vote,” said Khalif Ali, the executive director of the voter watchdog group Common Cause Pennsylvania, said in a statement.
“It takes time to count every vote accurately and that’s why Election Day is not results day,” Ali continued. “Even if we don’t know the election winners when we go to bed, what matters most is making sure every voter’s ballot is counted accurately.”
2. What about the Big Two?
It’s no understatement to say that the eyes of the nation — and the world — have been on the marquee races at the top of Tuesday’s ballot.
In the fight for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman faces Republican celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz in a contest that’s been within the margin of error for weeks now.
They’re fighting to replace U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who announced several lifetimes ago … errr … in October 2020, that he would not seek re-election. The winner will help determine the balance of power in the upper chamber next year.
Oz, who has the backing of former President Donald Trump, has blitzed Fetterman with ads critical of his record as the chairperson of the state Board of Pardons. Commercials aired by GOP-aligned groups also have tried to paint Fetterman as too radical to serve in Washington.
Fetterman, who suffered a stroke just before last May’s primary, also has faced questions about his fitness to serve. He’s responded with the political equivalent of the ‘Batman Begins‘ defense — Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.
Fetterman, meanwhile, has hit Oz, who lived in New Jersey before entering the race, and who has residences around the country with accusations of carpetbagging. And it’s thanks to Team Fetterman’s capitalizing on a media gaffe by Oz that we all spent a couple of weeks talking about crudité — and how to serve it.
University of Virginia political sage Larry Sabato and his band of prognosticators at ‘Sabato’s Crystal Ball,’ listed the race as ‘leans Republican’ in their final round of rankings on Monday.
Which brings us to the other big race: The battle for the governor’s office between Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro, of Montgomery County, and Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a state senator from Franklin County.
The contest is even more consequential, in its own way, than the U.S. Senate race.
Shapiro, a former state lawmaker, has held himself out as the reality-based alternative to Mastriano. The Republican is an election-denier and a former U.S. Army colonel, who has cloaked himself in Christian nationalism, threatened to make every voter in the state re-register to vote and to decertify voting machines. More importantly, if elected, he gets to appoint his own secretary of state, giving him broad latitude to control elections.
The stakes were raised even higher in June when the U.S. Supreme Court toppled Roe v. Wade, sending control over abortion back to the states. Some states have moved to swiftly ban the procedure. It remains legal in Pennsylvania.
Mastriano, an abortion foe who opposes any exceptions, has vowed to sign a six-week ban into law if one is sent to him by the state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly. And in 2019, he said that women who violated his proposed six-week ban should be charged with murder.
If elected, Shapiro will succeed Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, a onetime Planned Parenthood volunteer who has vetoed a succession of Republican-authored efforts to restrict access to abortion.
But Wolf will leave office in January after serving the constitutional maximum of two, four-year terms. And Shapiro has vowed to be a similar bulwark against such legislation.
Sabato’s Crystal Ball has the race listed ‘likely Democratic,’ with Shapiro holding a comfortable polling lead for the entire campaign.
3. The Endangered Species and the Wide Open Spaces.
Two of Pennsylvania’s Democratic congressional incumbents, U.S. Reps. Susan Wild, of the Lehigh Valley-based 7th District, and Matt Cartwright, who represents the NEPA-based 8th District, each come into this Election Day with their jobs on the bubble.
Wild faces Republican Lisa Scheller, a manufacturing executive, in a rematch of their 2020 race. While Wild has led in fundraising, Schelller has waged a competitive race in a district that has sent Republicans and Democrats alike to Capitol Hill over the last three decades. Sabato’s Crystal Ball has the seat as ‘leans Republican’ after previously listing it as a toss-up.
Cartwright also finds himself in a rematch with former Trump White House aide Jim Bognet. That race also is listed as ‘leans Republican’ after spending time in Sabato’s toss-up column.
Out in western Pennsylvania, voters will cast their ballots in a pair of competitive races for open seats.
In the 17th District, Democrat Chris Deluzio faces Republican Jeremy Shaffer in the seat currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb. Sabato’s Crystall Ball lists the seat ‘leans Republican.’
And in the new 12th District, Democratic state Rep. Summer Lee faces off against Republican Mike Doyle, a councilman in suburban Plum Borough, for a seat being vacated by … wait for it … veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle. And if you’re guessing that the name confusion has been a thing, you’d be right.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has the seat listed as ‘likely Democratic,’ the Capital-Star previously reported.
Stay with us all day for up-to-the minute coverage of these — and other races — across Pennsylvania this Election Day.
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