Pennsylvania’s Trickle of Votes Freezes TV Networks on Race Call

Democrat Joe Biden continues to grow his vote advantage over President Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, which could decide the presidential race, but a winner has yet to be called as counties laboriously count ballots.

The decision desks at the Associated Press and television networks call races in states when they’re confident the vote advantage of the leading candidate can’t be overcome, and they don’t want to get it wrong — especially when that call will determine the next president and the incumbent is hurling unsupported charges of massive fraud.

“This particular year, there are just so many curve balls that have been thrown our way that we really are taking a little bit more time to make sure that we understand exactly what we’re seeing and analyzing it,” said John Lapinski, who manages calls in the presidential race for NBC News.

Biden will win the presidency if he captures Pennsylvania’s 20 Electoral College votes, and he held a 28,877-vote margin over Trump as of 9 a.m., according to the Associated Press. Decision Desk HQ, an election-data firm, projected early Friday that Biden would win Pennsylvania, but other news organizations haven’t followed suit. Bloomberg News doesn’t use Decision Desk HQ projections to determine election winners.

A decision might grow closer Saturday when Allegheny County, which is largely Democratic, plans to report the count of 5,000 to 10,000 additional mail-in and absentee ballots that so far have been heavily favoring Biden, County ExecutiveRich Fitzgerald said on MSNBC. And Philadelphia, also heavily Democratic, is expected to report some additional totals from the 20,000 outstanding mail-in and absentee ballots that require more review.

There were about 89,000 uncounted mail-in and absentee ballots across the commonwealth as of Saturday morning, according to a Department of State dashboard.

A key question is whether the afternoon’s results move Biden’s margin in Pennsylvania past the 0.5 percentage-point threshold for triggering an automatic recount. The former vice president currently leads Trump by a 0.4% margin in Pennsylvania.

The Associated Press has said one reason it hasn’t yet called the race in Pennsylvania is that the breakdown between Biden and Trump from provisional ballots isn’t clear. Those are cast by voters whose eligibility is in doubt and require verification before they are counted, and most likely won’t be counted until early next week.

Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar’s office has reported that as of 4 p.m. on Friday, there were 101,421 provisional ballots from 55 of the commonwealth’s 67 counties. There’s been no updated total so far on Saturday.

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Trump winning a disproportionate number of the provisional votes would cut into Biden’s margin. But Fitzgerald said on MSNBC that he expects the 17,000 provisionals in Allegheny County will break about 75% to 25% for Biden.

One reasonso many provisional ballots were cast was that many voters requested mail-in ballots but later opted to vote in person, according to Suzanne Almeida, interim executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania. To ensure they didn’t vote twice, they were required to cast a provisional ballot unless they brought in their mail-in ballot for cancellation.

Delayed Counting

Pennsylvania’s ballot-counting also has been slowed because, unlike some states, its counties were barred by law from starting to count a flood of mail-in and absentee ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day.

Pennsylvania adopted expanded mail-in balloting in October 2019, but the pandemic led to more than 3 million ballot requests that overwhelmed an election system not built for that volume.

U.S. Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, said on CNN Saturday that the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature is responsible for the process taking a long time because lawmakers “refused” to let counties start counting votes before Election Day.

“The No. 1 recommendation to streamline the process going forward” is to lift that restriction, she said.

Democrats accounted for about 63% of the mail-in requests in Pennsylvania and Republicans 25%, Department of State data show, after Trump disparaged mail-in voting for months.

That led to a “red mirage” of Trump holding an early lead of as much as 675,000 votes based on the Election Day votes counted first that turned into a “big blue shift” as the outstanding mail-in and absentee ballots that favored Democrats were tallied.

— With assistance by Laura Davison

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