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Candidates leading after Tuesday's state primary 'cautiously optimistic': waiting for mail-in ballot results

2020 primary mail in ballots

Thousands of mail-in ballots sit in the Lancaster County Board of Elections office waiting to be counted for the June 2, 2020 primary. 

With Tuesday's primary election in the rearview mirror, candidates are still wondering: Did I win?

While the Associated Press and The New York Times have called at least one Lancaster County primary race, the ultimate fate of that match-up and others is still murky -- candidates are cautiously waiting for Lancaster County's mail-in ballots to be counted.

AP at 12:32 a.m. called the race for Congressional Democratic candidate Sarah Hammond over her opponent Paul Daigle. At the time, Hammond had 7,075 votes in Lancaster and 8,546 in York County, while Daigle had 1,905 and 2,998, respectively. As of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Hammond maintained her lead with 8,426 votes in Lancaster to 2,420 for Daigle.

The 11th district congressional seat for which Hammond and Daigle are vying includes southern York County.

Hammond said Wednesday afternoon she's “cautiously optimistic" about her projected win, and although she has looked at both the national news outlets’ coverage, she's not ready to call it yet.

“We're not making any formal announcements until we hear otherwise because we know this is a huge and new experience," Hammond said. "We never know which demographics are [choosing] mail-in ballots."

Daigle is also waiting to make an announcement, until every vote is tallied. He said he “campaigned on voting rights.”

However, with Hammond’s current margin, Daigle acknowledged his chances of taking a lead in the upcoming week are slim.

Hammond's team "did a great job," Daigle said. "If she wins, I'm conceding."


County voting numbers

At Lancaster County’s Board of Commissioners meeting on Wednesday, Ray D'Agostino, the chair of the Board of elections, provided data about the primary. He said there were 96,000 voters, representing a 34% turnout. Of those, 46% were in person and 54% were by mail.

Of the 64,000 absentee and mail in ballots sent to Lancaster County voters, approximately 52,000 were returned.

Election officials have until next Wednesday to count all those ballots, but only counted a little over 1,200 on primary day due to other duties.

Diane Skilling, deputy chief clerk of elections for Lancaster County, on Wednesday said they “had four and sometimes five staff opening ballots. We have two staff scanning and adjudicating the ballots.”

She said she anticipated her staff would finish with absentees ballots on Thursday and then begin opening mail-in ballots.

Randall Wenger, the chief clerk and registrar for the Lancaster County Board of Elections, said vote totals will change daily as more mail-in and absentee ballots are added.

Meantime, York County's 39,976 mail-in ballots were all counted by 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night, according to Elections Director Steven Ulrich. A team of about 40 county employees worked to get through the ballots, he said.


State Senate race

In the Democrat bid for state senate, Lancaster City Councilwoman Janet Diaz led her opponent Lancaster County Commissioner Craig Lehman 3,578 to 2,222 votes as of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“It's really hard to explain," Diaz said Wednesday. “All I can say is that I feel humbled by the people who have entrusted me with their votes."

Like Hammond, Diaz said her optimism is tinged with caution, “because you can't foresee the future until it's done."

Given the unique nature of this primary election, Lehman said it's impossible to speculate what the results will reflect in the next week.

“I'm just grateful for the support we received," he said. “We'll be waiting to see the results and we're just going to respect the will of the people, whatever that might be."

The novelty of the circumstances surrounding this week's primary makes projecting winners the night of the election difficult, said Terry Madonna, professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College.

Throughout the state, Madonna said far more Democrats applied for mail-in ballots than Republican voters -- and applicants were concentrated in urban and suburban areas.

"What you need to know is how many mail-in ballots are sitting in the courthouse," Madonna said. "You need to know how many (ballots) are outstanding."

Madonna said he's being cautious about calling any races this early.

"We won't know for sure until they're actually certified," he said.

- Staff reporters Gillian McGoldrick and Carter Walker contributed to this story.