The race may be called, but in Centre County, the count goes on.

By: - November 7, 2020 4:25 pm

When the Associated Press called Pennsylvania for Joe Biden on Saturday morning, putting him over the 270 electoral vote-threshold he needed to capture the presidency, the Centre County Board of Elections didn’t stop processing ballots.

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Counties across Pennsylvania have already reported 98 percent of the in-person and mail-in vote totals in the Nov. 3 General Election.

Centre County officials convened at 9 a.m. Saturday morning to start the next, painstaking stage of the vote count: vetting roughly 600 provisional ballots, which were cast on Election Day by voters who had doubts about their eligibility.

As Biden declared victory in the presidential race and leaders across the world started to recognize him as the winner on Saturday, election officials across Pennsylvania remain in the early stages of a meticulous vote count that will take weeks to officially complete. 

Counties may work into next week processing provisional ballots, which are on track to exceed 100,000 statewide, according to WITF-FM

They also have until Tuesday to receive mail-in ballots cast by military members and overseas voters, which must be scanned, counted and added to the race totals, too. 

It’s unlikely that these ballots will affect the outcome of the presidential election. Media outlets such as  the Associated Press only call races when a trailing candidate has no possible path to victory, based on data including the number of outstanding ballots.

But “regardless of any calls or projections that anybody is making, we are still committed to counting every vote,” Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe said Saturday, according to the Centre Daily Times.

Pennsylvania counties received an abnormally high number of provisional ballots this year due to the state’s expanded vote by mail law. The law allows approved mail-in voters to vote provisionally at the polls if they lost their mail-in ballot or didn’t receive it by Election Day. 

Election officials have to vet each provisional ballot before tabulating and adding it to the county’s vote total. A ballot can be rejected if the voter who cast it is not registered to vote in the county where they cast it, or if officials find they’ve already cast another ballot.  

As Centre County solicitor Elizabeth Depuis said over the meeting’s live stream Saturday, “It’s a labor-intensive process.”

Over the course of nearly three hours Saturday, the Centre County Election Board heard reports of provisional ballots cast at each voting precinct, including how many were flagged for rejection and why. 

County commissioners inspected each ballot in a secrecy envelope, and couldn’t see the vote inside before accepting or disqualifying it. 

Some ballots, including many in areas with large concentrations of student housing, were rejected because voters were not registered in Centre County. 

Others were disqualified because the voter had not signed an affidavit certifying that they had not cast another ballot.

The board will reconvene next week to finish the count. Even then, their work on the 2020 General Election will be far from complete. 

Once they count every ballot, county officials have to double check their work and complete an audit of the results to make sure they’re accurate.

State law gives counties 20 days to finalize their count and vote to certify their results. Until they do – typically in the days before Thanksgiving – the results of the election are considered “unofficial.

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.