Philadelphia leaders on Tuesday insisted they were only taking the extra step of slowing down the process because of the Republican lawsuit.
“As the conversation unfolds this evening about whether or not Philadelphia counted all of their votes, I want to be clear that the reason some ballots will not be counted is because Republican lawyers are targeting Philadelphia — and Philadelphia alone — trying to force us to do a procedure that no other county does,” the Republican said. Party-affiliated City Commissioner Seth Bluestein said Tuesday at the board of elections’ public meeting.
The process, called “ballot book reconciliation,” is a way to prevent double voting, which Philadelphia implemented in 2020 amid a dramatic expansion of mail-in voting in the state. Election workers must interrupt the count to scan the poll books so that the list of voters who returned postal ballots can be compared with those who voted in person. The process typically takes three days, court records show.
State law does not require poll reconciliation, according to court records. Most districts don’t do that. But late last month, the Republican-led body, known for restoring integrity and trust in elections — including strategist Karl Rove as founder and former attorney general William P. Bar is on its board, – case Philadelphia is trying to force election officials to re-implement the process.
In a statement, the group credited the city with persuading it to change its position.
“Any duplicate vote undermines the integrity of the system. “We know that double voting happens and it happens for a variety of reasons, including the good, the bad, the ugly and the illegal,” said Derek Lyons, President and CEO of RITE. “Conducting an audit will protect the integrity of the count. As voters increasingly choose to vote by mail-in ballot, auditing ballots to protect against double voting is critical.
City officials argued that the reconciliation process was laborious and time-consuming and did not require other improved procedures to prevent double voting and voters’ growing familiarity with mail-in ballots. Court records show that in the past three elections, there have been zero duplicate votes in reconciliation proceedings.
City officials also said they want to eliminate the process of complying with a new state law that provides funding to improve election administration. Philadelphia received $5.4 million under that law, on the condition that the vote count proceed “unimpeded.” City officials said they are concerned that suspending the counting of poll books could be considered a setback and could result in the loss of grant money.
Democratic groups that intervened in the case said the case was “an attempt to cast doubt on the validity of mail-in ballots and to establish free evidence that ‘bad things are happening in Philadelphia.’
On Monday, State Trial Court Judge Anne Marie Coyle in Philadelphia declined to order city officials to restart the process, finding that doing so on the day before the election would be unduly burdensome. But Coyle issued a 13-page order saying city officials “failed to consider the incentives for fraudulent voting that could reasonably result.” The Republicans immediately appealed.
“Even if we technically won the court case, the opinion was written in such a way that we had no choice but to move forward and restore harmony,” Bluestein said at Tuesday’s meeting. He and Commissioner Lisa Deeley (D), who chairs the election commission, voted in favor of reinstating the process; Commissioner Umar Sabir (D) voted against.
Most of the mail-in ballots will be counted on Tuesday, Deputy City Commissioner Nick Custodio said. But before workers can count the votes cast in the last day or two before polling closes, they will have to spend time in the polling books, as they have done in many past elections.