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Pennsylvania, Michigan Among States Where Counting Continues

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And that's a good point to bring in Pam Fessler, who covers voting issues for NPR, and is paying, of course, special attention to Pennsylvania, among other states. Pamela, good morning.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So what have election officials been doing all night and into the morning in places like Pennsylvania?

FESSLER: Well, they're doing what they're supposed to be doing, which is counting all the legitimately cast ballots, especially those mail-in ones. And that's really time-consuming. And, Steve, you know, some of these local election offices, they're really small operations and they are not used to this volume of mail-in ballots. Michigan has about 2.8 million absentee ballots to count.

INSKEEP: Wow.

FESSLER: Pennsylvania has about 2 1/2 million. In 2016, Pennsylvania had one-tenth of that number. So, you know, these - both states say that it will be tonight at the very earliest that they'll have results. Philadelphia alone has 400,000 mail-in ballots. And as of last night, I counted less than a quarter of them.

INSKEEP: And when we begin to hear numbers like that, we understand why this state is undecided, even though the ballots that have been counted so far do give a lead to the president. We heard Mara Liasson say that Democrats were much more likely to vote absentee or by mail. And you're giving us numbers like 2 1/2 million absentee ballots. And you're telling us that in Philadelphia, a Democratic stronghold, less than a quarter of those kinds of ballots have been counted. We can see why this is an undecided state, can't we?

FESSLER: Exactly. Exactly. And, you know, these states, Steve, along with Wisconsin, you know, election officials were not allowed to begin processing their mail-in ballots until Election Day or in Michigan's case, the day before. And that means they were unable, before this week, to make sure everything was in order, you know, to take - to open those ballots, to open the envelopes, to take the ballots out, to unfold them, to put them into a scanner to be tabulated. And that's why it's taking so long. And election - you know, the officials in those states had been asking for months to be able to begin processing these ballots earlier, which is allowed in a lot of other states. But the Republican-controlled legislatures in all three states resisted making that change.

INSKEEP: I guess just to understand why this is, they don't count the ballots, the early ballots until everybody is voted because they don't want to somehow prejudice the count, right? It's not like a football game where you get to know the first-quarter score in the first quarter. You don't find out the score until the end, right?

FESSLER: Right. But, you know, counting is a completely different from processing the ballots, you know.

INSKEEP: So there are things some states could have done to speed up the process?

FESSLER: Right. You know, opening the envelopes. You know, they have to unfold those ballots. They have to flatten them out. I mean, it takes a lot of time.

INSKEEP: And we will be waiting for that to happen. We've heard from Don Gonyea. They might have much more complete results by this evening. Pennsylvania, I guess we're talking about some time. Meanwhile, though, we do have the president's approach to this, Pam Fessler. We heard Mara and Rachel talking about the president's false claim of victory and a discussion of going to the Supreme Court. We have no idea whatsoever what the legal basis would be that would go to the Supreme Court, what the case would be. But we do know that there already were some cases, including one that is not entirely finished in Pennsylvania. What's going on?

FESSLER: Well, the Republican Party had filed suit against a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that allowed that mail-in ballots in that state could still be counted if they arrived as late as this Friday, as long as they're postmarked by Election Day. Republicans had appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to get involved before the election, but it left open the possibility of revisiting the issue after the election. So it's possible. And we don't know how many ballots that's going to involve. They still haven't come in yet. But if it's enough to make a difference, I think you can be pretty certain that the Republicans are going to be back in court on this particular issue. There are also - you know, Nevada is another place where the counting is quite close. There has been a lot of litigation in that state over the counting of mail-in ballots. And even this week, the Republicans filed suit to try and stop counting of ballots in Clark County, which is another Democratic stronghold, because they said their observers weren't getting enough access to watch the process. So that's a potential - you know, another potential area for litigation.

INSKEEP: Although I guess we have to note, there were cases in Texas that were just abruptly turned away. You actually have to have some basis for a lawsuit for it to get very far. Pam, thanks very much.

FESSLER: Thanks a lot.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Pam Fessler, who follows voting, and there is a lot of counting yet to go. Millions of ballots uncounted and several key states undecided in the presidential race, neither candidate near 270 electoral votes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAST LUNGS' "FIVE AND NINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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