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Votes In Pennsylvania, A Key Swing State, Continue To Be Counted

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Another very pivotal state right now - Pennsylvania. And that's where we are joined by NPR's Jeff Brady, who is in Philadelphia. Good morning, Jeff.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So like a lot of other states, Pennsylvania was just flooded with a lot of mail-in ballots, and presumably that's why it's taken so long. What can you tell us?

BRADY: Yeah. Last year, Pennsylvania's Legislature made it much easier to vote early and by mail. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. And voters who wanted to avoid polling places signed up in huge numbers. There are 9 million voters here - 2.5 million of them signed up for mail ballots. For most counties, that meant all of a sudden they were processing 10 times as many mail ballots as before. Philadelphia has more than 1.1 million voters. That's - and up to 400,000 of them cast votes by mail. The city spent $5 million and, in just a few weeks, built this impressive vote-by-mail counting factory at the convention center.

But even with this, Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, he says processing and counting all those ballots takes time.

AL SCHMIDT: Full tilt, we're talking about 10- to 12,000 an hour. But that's uninterrupted, right?

BRADY: And, of course, it's never uninterrupted. Officials here say it'll take several days to count most of the ballots. Some of them will be coming up - still be coming in to - through the week because, under state law, as long as they're postmarked by Election Day, they can arrive as late as Friday.

MARTIN: Right. So that's the mail-in ballots. But, I mean, still, a lot of people went to the polls on Election Day, right? What are the latest numbers?

BRADY: Yeah, they did. And the early numbers in Pennsylvania show Trump winning here, but that really doesn't tell us much. The votes that came in first were from more Republican parts of the state, and officials say many more Democrats chose to vote by mail than Republicans, by about a 2-to-1 margin. And since all of those votes are part of that - are not part of that total yet, the race could tighten here significantly or, as the polls have shown before the election, Biden may still come out ahead in Pennsylvania.

MARTIN: So what are the conversations you've been having with actual voters? What are they telling you?

BRADY: Yeah, I was out talking with people before the polls closed. And a few mentioned that, you know, they had to wait in line to vote. I heard a few complaints about - I didn't hear any complaints, actually, about mail-in voting. People love that here now. Certainly, I didn't hear any complaints about results coming in slowly. That may change as the days wear on. But officials here, including Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, have been warning Pennsylvanians that it will take longer than usual to learn who won this time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM WOLF: I encourage all of us to take a deep breath and be patient. What is most important is that we have accurate results, even if it takes a little longer.

BRADY: Governor Wolf and Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar have been all over the airwaves here for weeks saying the vote count was going to be slow and asking for patience.

MARTIN: President Trump has raised questions about voting in Philadelphia a number of times on the campaign trail. He said, you know, quote, "Bad things happen in Philadelphia," sowing all of this distrust in the system. Did you see any of Trump campaign poll watchers - that he was sort of telling people to go out and watch themselves?

BRADY: Yeah, I did. When I took a tour of the mail ballot counting facility, they were sitting in chairs off to the side, watching dozens of workers in bright vests counting the ballots. We don't know if they found anything yet, but we know that the campaigns have been preparing for legal battles. We're going to have to wait and see, you know, the cases that have been filed, if anything sticks. But, certainly, there's more to come here on the legal front.

MARTIN: NPR's Jeff Brady in Philadelphia. You hear him on NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BALMORHEA'S "CLEAR LANGUAGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.