Under pressure from GOP lawsuit, Philadelphia takes step that will slow vote count

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Under pressure from the GOP lawsuit, Philadelphia officials decided early Tuesday to resume a time-consuming process designed to prevent double voting, a move expected to delay the city’s ability to report final results — possibly by several days.

The move comes as election officials in Pennsylvania and other battleground states warn that the outcome of the tight race may not be known on election night. Officials have preemptively dismissed claims such as those used by President Donald Trump after the 2020 election that delays are a sign of fraud or nefarious activity.

Philadelphia leaders stressed Tuesday that they were only taking additional steps that could slow the process because of the GOP lawsuit.

“I want to make it very clear that when the conversation about whether Philadelphia has counted all the ballots happens later tonight, the reason some of the ballots won’t be counted is because Republican lawyers targeting Philly — and Philly alone — are trying to coerce We enforce procedures that no other county has,” Republican city commissioner Seth Brustein said Tuesday at a public meeting of the Elections Committee.

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The process, known as “ballot book checking,” is a way to prevent double voting that Philadelphia has implemented in 2020 amid a dramatic expansion of mail-in ballots in the state. It requires election workers to interrupt the count to scan the ballot books in order to compare the list of voters who returned mail-in ballots with those who voted in person. The process usually takes three days, court records show.

State law does not require reconciliation of polling books, according to court records. Most counties don’t. But late last month, the Republican-led group “restores election integrity and trust” — which includes strategist Karl Rove as founder and former attorney general William P. Barr — — Supported a lawsuit to try to force Philadelphia election officials to resume the process.

In a statement, the group was praised for persuading the city to change its stance.

“Any double voting undermines the integrity of the system. We know double voting happens, and it happens for all kinds of reasons, good, bad, ugly and illegal,” said RITE President and CEO Derek Lyons. “Having an audit will protect the integrity of the count. As voters increasingly opt for mail-in ballots, it becomes even more important to audit ballots to prevent double voting.”

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In a tweet on Tuesday, the group said any delays in polling checks would be the fault of city officials.

City officials have argued that the reconciliation process was time-consuming and laborious, and is no longer necessary given other improvements to the process to prevent double voting and voters’ growing familiarity with mail-in ballots. Court records show that over the past three elections, zero double-voting has been found during the settlement.

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City officials also said they wanted to scrap the process to comply with a NSW law that funds improved election management. Under the law, Philadelphia received $5.4 million on the condition that the counting of votes take place “without interruption.” City officials said they were concerned that pausing the count to scan the poll books could be seen as a disruption, which could put them at risk of losing funding.

Democratic groups involved in the case said the lawsuit was designed to “call into question the validity of mail-in ballots and perpetuate the unsubstantiated claim that ‘something bad happened in Philadelphia.'”

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On Monday, Judge Anne-Marie Coyle of the Philadelphia state trial court declined to order city officials to resume the process, arguing that doing so on the eve of the election would be too onerous. But Coyle issued a scathing 13-page order that found city officials “did not consider that their decisions could encourage fraudulent voting.” Republican plaintiffs immediately appealed.

“While we technically won the case,” Brustein said at Tuesday’s meeting, “the opinion was written that we had no choice but to move on and restore the settlement.” He and Election Commission Chair Lisa Deeley (D ) Commissioner voted to resume the process; Commissioner Omar Sabir (D) voted against.

Most mail-in ballots will be counted on Tuesday, according to Deputy City Commissioner Nick Custodio. But before workers count the ballots they have received the last day or two before polls close, they will have to spend time going through the ballot books, as they have done in past elections.

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