Mail-in ballot requests pass 2.6M in Pennsylvania

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Mail-in ballots for the 2016 General Election at the elections ballot center in Salt Lake City. As President Donald Trump rails against voting by mail, many members of his own political party are embracing it to keep their voters safe during the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — With three weeks to go before the Nov. 3 election, more than 2.6 million registered voters have applied for a mail-in ballot in Pennsylvania, a battleground state hotly contested by President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Of those applicants as of Tuesday, more than 1.7 million are registered Democrats and about 641,000 are registered Republicans, a three-to-one ratio, according to state data. Another 284,000 ballots were requested by independent or third party voters.

All but about 70,000 have been mailed to voters, according to state data. Allegheny County has reported that more than 20 ballots with the wrong races were sent to voters, but the county on Tuesday did not have a figure for the total number.

Of all the ballots mailed out, more than 437,000 have been returned by voters. Democrats also dominate in that category, with 338,000 ballots returned, versus 64,000 by Republicans.

In 2016, 6.1 million voters in Pennsylvania cast ballots, with fewer than 300,000 of those cast by mail.

Mailing back ballots is not the only option for returning them.

More than 20 counties have informed the state elections bureau that they are maintaining sites to hand-in ballots, such as drop boxes or satellite election offices. Filled-out ballots can also be brought by hand to county election offices.

In the meantime, partisan lawsuits over Pennsylvania’s poll-watching restrictions, the deadline to receive mail-in ballots and counting mail-in ballots where a voter’s signature may not match are pending in state and federal courts.

At the same time, closed-door talks between Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and Republican lawmakers are stalled over the question of whether to let counties get a head start on processing mail-in ballots before Election Day.

The top priority of counties is to get the ability to process mail-in ballots before Election Day — called pre-canvassing — as they face the prospect of digging into 3 million envelopes or more when polls open on Nov. 3.

Processing ballots before Election Day would speed up the vote count and give it more public credibility, county officials say, warning that a presidential election result otherwise could hang in limbo for days on a drawn-out vote count in Pennsylvania.

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