Election day write-ins see Midstate officials ‘weeding through the Mickey Mouses and Donald Ducks’

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Nearly two weeks after election day, Lancaster County still has as many write-in votes left to count — about 15,000 — as it normally starts with for a general municipal election like the one Nov. 2. This time, it began with 52,000 and expects to finish by Friday or Saturday.

If lowish-turnout, off-year municipal elections take that long to tabulate, then (the thinking might go) just imagine how long next year’s midterm election — complete in Pennsylvania with an election for governor, U.S. senator, and every congressman — will take!

The thinking might go that way. But — according to the commonwealth’s Department of State — that thinking would be incorrect.

“It is a common misunderstanding that because of low turnout, results in a municipal election should be counted much more quickly,” a spokeswoman for the department wrote to abc27 News. “However, municipal elections tend to be more complex because of write-ins and the many races and ballot styles.”

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In the midterms, “you’re going to get, in all likelihood, very few write-ins,” said Julie Wheeler (R), York County’s president commissioner and chair of the county’s canvassing board. And in the 2020 presidential election, despite far higher turnout than in this year’s election, “we did have very few write-ins,” she said.

York County finished tabulating its ballots Friday.

As for whether the Department of State is concerned about the lengthy tabulation process in some counties? “Though timely results are important, the number one priority of the Department of State and counties is making sure each ballot is counted accurately and securely,” the department spokeswoman wrote.

The write-ins are particularly problematic. Election leaders have to determine “whether this variation of a spelling is close enough to that,” said Jerry Feaser, Dauphin County’s elections director. “And you know, you have to weed through the Mickey Mouses and Donald Ducks.”

Yes, some people really do take the time to go to a polling place — or mail in a ballot — only to vote for a cartoon character.

Then there are provisional ballots — ballots cast by people whom poll workers can’t immediately confirm are eligible to vote — which election workers must research individually.

“In order to review those, it’s a laborious process,” Feaser said. “You have to first identify, is that voter registered? If they were registered, where were they registered? And if they are registered, and they went to the wrong precinct, what part of their ballot will be counted?”

And after all that, no rest for the weary: Every election office in the state will be recounting a narrowly-decided statewide race until nearly Thanksgiving.

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