Pre-canvassing benefits uncertain as election integrity concerns mount in Pennsylvania


Before the polls opened on Election Day, Pennsylvania officials – from Gov. Tom Wolf to rank and file legislators – warned that without any ability to pre-canvass mail-in ballots, the results would be unknown for days.

Nine days later, poll workers continue tallying votes, leaving many to wonder how effective early processing may have been in speeding up the count. For Republican lawmakers, however, it seems pre-canvassing may be the least of the state’s issues.

“It could have helped a little bit if the appropriate guardrails were in place,” said Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-York. “That’s why we passed House Bill 2626.”

In Keefer’s district, which spans portions of York and Cumberland counties, workers pre-canvassed 77,000 mail-in ballots before 1 p.m. on Election Day, she said. Still, language written into HB 2626 would have given counties an additional three days to do so, if only the governor’s administration had agreed to it.

Wolf, for his part, said he conceded from his original 21-day period down to just one week – a time frame he said House Republicans wouldn’t accept. In the end, no agreement was reached and counties were left to pre-canvass when the polls opened at 7 a.m., a challenge so great that seven opted to begin counting mail-in ballots the next day instead.

Some 2.5 million residents voted by mail in the general election, representing more than one third of all the votes cast in Pennsylvania. Court challenges over the administration’s extension of the deadline for ballot acceptance – up through 5 p.m. on Nov. 6 instead of 8 p.m. on Election Day, as in current statute – meant poll workers also segregated late-arriving votes, in addition to the manning the polls and canvassing the on-time ballots.

Republican leaders argued this confusion and chaos left many of their constituents uncertain if their votes had been counted properly. They blamed Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and, ultimately Wolf, for casting a dark cloud over the results. Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, even called for Boockvar’s resignation.

“Whether they like it or not, there are 3 million Pennsylvanians who are uncomfortable with the result,” Corman said during a news conference Thursday. “This administration brought this on themselves by knocking down all the security measures we put in place so that we could have faith in the results.”

Keefer likewise led a chorus of rank and file Republicans in the House that called for a legislative-led audit of the 2020 election. State Government Committee Majority Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, said the panel will hold hearings on the matter soon.

Democrats wrote off the action as partisan posturing. Rep. Kevin Boyle, D-Philadelphia, accused Republicans of “engineering this crisis” by refusing to budge beyond a 3-day pre-canvassing rule, despite language written into the bill that once provided for 21 days before it was amended out.

“It seems the attempt to sow discord in our elections is very deliberate and was premeditated,” he said. “Consider that I and many of my Democratic colleagues pleaded with the Republicans who control the House and Senate to allow the preparation or pre-canvassing of mail-in and absentee ballots prior to Election Day, so that the election results could be known earlier. But the Republican leadership refused to allow that to happen.”

The Department of State did not respond to requests from The Center Square regarding how much pre-canvassing might have helped speed up the counting process.

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