Members of the news media will be allowed into the Lancaster County Convention Center on Tuesday to observe the team of election staff and volunteers tasked with processing tens of thousands of mail-in ballots.
The access for media, announced by the county Board of Elections on Monday, came in response to an LNP | LancasterOnline request.
In requesting access, an attorney for LNP Media Group wrote, “While LNP understands that it would not be permitted to disclose the results of any portion of the pre-canvass meeting prior to the closure of the polls, permitting members of the media to attend and observe would nonetheless help promote public confidence in this more-important-than-ever process.”
Roughly 110,000 county voters sought mail-in ballots and more than 80,000 had been returned as of Monday morning, according to Randall Wenger, chief clerk of the Board of Elections. Pennsylvania election law prohibits counties from beginning to open mail-in ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day.
While news organizations will be allowed to observe the mail-in ballot processing, journalists will be restricted to a roped-off area so they can’t interfere with election workers and or take photos or video of individual ballots, Commissioner Josh Parsons said.
Also, as in previous elections, each candidate may send one authorized representative to observe the mail-in ballot operation; each political party is permitted one representative as well.
Starting Tuesday morning, some 150 volunteers and professional elections staff will open and scan as many ballots as possible. Last week, Wenger said he expects all ballots received by this past weekend will be counted by Tuesday night.
Shortly after polls close at 8 p.m., the results of those ballots will begin to appear online on the county’s election site along with the results of in-person voting. Any remaining mail-in ballots not processed by Tuesday night will be opened and counted in the coming days.
Still to be determined is the fate of any mail-in ballots that arrive after 8 p.m. Tuesday.
The Department of State issued a directive that any ballots that are postmarked before 8 p.m. tonight but arrive before 5 p.m. Friday can be accepted and counted. That three-day extension is being challenged by Republicans, who say the extension violates state law.
Data on mail-in ballots shows many more Democrats opting to vote by that method than in person. Until the court case is resolved, perhaps as soon as this week by the U.S Supreme Court, any ballot received after 8 p.m. Tuesday will be kept separate and counted only if the courts permit.