18 October 2020
Throughout the United States, people are concerned about voting and ballot counting in the presidential election next month. But it is hard to top the levels of concern in the eastern state of Pennsylvania.
The city of Philadelphia is home to 20 percent of all Pennsylvania voters likely to support Democratic Party candidates. U.S. President Donald Trump has described Philadelphia as a place "where bad things happen." Trump's political campaign has taken election officials in the city to court. They were forced to explain security measures after election equipment disappeared from a building where it was stored.
There is an investigation into military ballots that were mistakenly thrown away in one Pennsylvania county. In Harrisburg, the state capital, lawmakers are fighting over the way to count the large number of mailed-in ballots.
Pennsylvania is trying to hold the election in an environment where Republicans and Democrats believe the other side wants to "steal" the election.
State and local election officials say they are doing all they can to make sure the voting is fair. They recall the counting of ballots in Florida 20 years ago, when the presidential election was decided in the U.S. Supreme Court.
"For years, we have trusted our election officials to be...nonpartisan. Why should we suddenly not trust them?" said Eileen Olmsted. She is with the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, a nonpartisan group. It works to increase people's involvement in government.
Olmsted added that there is no evidence of any voter wrongdoing in the state.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was born in Pennsylvania. He has visited it more than any other state since September 1. Kantar/CMAG watches the amount of money the candidates spend on political advertising. It says the political campaigns have spent more on television ads in Pennsylvania than any other state except Florida.
Pennsylvania has 20 electoral votes. Republican activists have made it clear that they will look at the legitimacy of each ballot before they will admit defeat.
States are given electoral votes based on their population. A presidential candidate must win 270 electoral votes to win the election.
Suzanne Almeida is with Common Cause Pennsylvania, another nonpartisan group. She says, "we are seeing the kind of incidents that are likely to happen in every election be "blown up to mean there is something...wrong with" the state's election administration.
"There are any number of reasons why that's not true," she added.
The biggest difficulty may be verifying and counting the large number of mail-in ballots. Election officials expect more than 3 million state residents will vote by mail because of fear of the coronavirus. Four years ago, only 300,000 people voted by mail.
In Pennsylvania, election officials are not permitted to start counting the votes until election day. Attempts to change that law have been blocked by the Republican-controlled state legislature. So, the vote count will continue for days after the November 3rd election. It could delay a final result in the presidential election.
Yet for all the accusations and investigations, many Pennsylvania residents say they have not had any problems registering and voting. There is hope that all will go well on election day.
Elzena Hall changed her registration from independent to Democrat and voted last week at a small election office in Philadelphia.
"It was...easy," said Hall.
Susan Stirling is a university academic adviser. This week she decided to vote early at one of the city's election centers.
"It went really quickly and smoothly," she said.
But that may change. There are several legal cases before judges that will decide which ballots get counted.
One case is about whether to count mailed-in ballots that arrive late. Another is about efforts to limit the number of places to drop off a marked ballot. These cases can cause confusion and other problems for election officials.
"Confusion does not promote safe, accessible and secure elections," said Witold J. Walczak. He serves as legal director for the non-profit American Civil Liberties Union.
Republicans and the Trump campaign say they are only trying to protect the fairness of the election.
"His position was we have to have an election that is fair, and that every vote is counted and counted the right way," said Bernadette Comfort, Trump's state campaign chair.
Democrats use the same argument to criticize Republicans, who, they say, are trying to "steal" the election.
Mail-in ballots come with a "secrecy sleeve" that covers the outside of the ballot. Many voters throw away the sleeve, and simply put their ballot in the envelope. Republicans say these ballots should not be counted.
"That's voter suppression," said State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta, a Democrat from Philadelphia.
But election officials are pressing forward, hoping that election day and the weeks that follow are calm.
I'm Dorothy Gundy.
The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
county – n. an electoral and administrative area within in American state
non-partisan – adj. without preference for one political party or another
electoral – adj. having to do with an election
legitimacy – adj. legally correct and true in all ways
verify – v. to check the truthfulness of something
academic – adj. pertaining to scholarly study
accessible – adj. able to get or to be given something
sleeve – n. the arm of a shirt or a protective cover
envelope – n. the paper holder used to mail a letter