What Our Election *Week* Timeline Will Look Like If It Comes Down To PA or MI

UNITED STATES - SEPT 12: Kathy Boockvar (D) Pennsylvania is interviewed at Roll Call in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - SEPT 12: Kathy Boockvar (D) Pennsylvania is interviewed at Roll Call in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
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October 21, 2020 12:11 p.m.

If the presidential election comes down to Pennsylvania or Michigan, it could take until Friday after Election Day — or maybe even later — for those results to be tabulated, the states’ chief election officials said Tuesday.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar (D) and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) both elaborated on their predictions for their states’ counting timelines during a web panel hosted by the Harvard Ash Center Tuesday afternoon.

Both states have rules limiting how much processing of mail-in ballots can be done before Election Day — though Michigan’s legislature recently agreed to a modest loosening of its rules.

Because of that new tweak — which will let the largest 51 cities begin ballot pre-processing on Nov. 2 — and because of the other ways election officials are scaling up their counting infrastructure there, Benson was expecting that a “full tabulation” could be reported by Friday, Nov. 6.

Additionally, an appeals court last week reinstated the state’s Election Day deadline for receiving mail-in ballots. Though that could lead to more ballots being rejected because they came in late, the upshot is there will be no delay in the processing for ballots still coming in after Election Day. Benson is already telling absentee voters that if they haven’t put their ballots in the mail yet, they should drop them off in person instead.

Boockvar’s projections were less certain, as she predicted only that an “overwhelming majority” of ballots will be counted by Nov. 6.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last month that ballots coming within the three days after Election Day should be counted — a ruling the U.S. Supreme Court let stand in a 4-4 deadlocked order this week.

Unlike Benson, Boockvar has not had any success in reaching a deal with the legislature to let the processing of ballots begin before Election Day.

Results from Pennsylvania’s June primary took two weeks to report in some counties. But Boockvar stressed on Tuesday election officials’ commitment to counting as quickly as possible, with many large counties planning to keep their counting operations going 24 hours a day until the work is done.

“It’s not like you go to sleep at 2 a.m. and there’s nothing until 8 a.m. There’s going to be a continuous flow of updates,” she said.

President Trump has made repeated false claims to suggest that if the results are not reported by the evening of Election Day, they are somehow suspect. There is also the specter of post-election litigation that would seek to stop the counting or to throw out certain ballots that are still being processed after Nov. 3.

To head off such a scenario, Democrats in the Pennsylvania ballot receipt deadline dispute asked the U.S. Supreme Court to say definitively that the ballots received in the three-day post election window should not be rejected. But with Monday’s deadlocked, two sentence order, they did not get that finality.

Boockvar, in her Thursday comments, alluded to her wish to have had all the issues decided in court “now, so that we didn’t have any questions left on Election Day.”

“But I’ve been the defendant in the overwhelming majority of lawsuits, and there’s only so much I can control,” she said.

Both she and Benson said their offices plan for regular check-ins with the public throughout the tabulation process about what’s going on in the counting. (Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose — who was also on the panel but whose state doesn’t face the same barriers to a quick count — also said he was taking that approach towards towards transparency.)

“From the moment the polls close until we announce that final tabulation, I’ll be consistently updating the public in every way possible, even doing press conferences from our absentee counting board facilities, to demonstrate to the public exactly what’s happening, exactly how the process is working,” Benson said. “So that they can have full confidence that a full tabulation securely and effectively and accurately of every ballot is taking place.”

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