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Votes Still Being Counted In Philadelphia As Biden Maintains Razor-Thin Lead

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania could decide the election. It has 20 electoral votes. The race remains extremely close, even though 99% of the vote has been counted in the commonwealth. Joe Biden, at the moment, leads President Trump by a little more than 28,000 ballots. NPR's Alina Selyukh has been watching the returns in Philadelphia. Alina, thanks for being with us.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Good morning.

SIMON: And the latest, please.

SELYUKH: Yeah, well, we're still counting - still waiting, still counting - tens of thousands more ballots - still very narrow, still too close to call. Like everywhere, folks in the city feel agitated and tired, waiting for that call that hopefully comes today.

Yesterday, I talked to Priscilla Lee from Philadelphia. She popped by the corner where people have been rallying since Election Day. She was on her lunch break and wanted to see the celebration after the vote count began showing Biden in the lead.

PRISCILLA LEE: I'm happy. I'm relieved. But I'm also sad for this country that something does have to be done to make us all be the United States, not a divided states.

SELYUKH: She said she's optimistic but also a little scared about how the next few weeks are going to play out.

SIMON: Alina, what are the rallies like?

SELYUKH: Yeah, they've been kind of these two rival rallies across the street from each other in front of that convention center where the ballots are getting counted. There's the anti-Trump rally that has had live bands show up, people dressed up like mailboxes, lots of music and dancing.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Count every vote.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Say it again.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Count every vote.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: One more time.

SELYUKH: And then the pro-Trump rally across the street is smaller, but it has grown.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This is a celebration of the reelection of Donald J. Trump, 2020.

(CHEERING)

SELYUKH: Lots of folks there have been echoing the Trump campaign - for example, accusing the city of not allowing the Trump representatives to monitor the votes, though the campaign has had observers inside and a federal judge this week dismissed their lawsuit related to that.

SIMON: The president and some of his allies have claimed fraud. So far, any evidence for that?

SELYUKH: Yeah. All kinds of officials here have been asked about this. Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar has said that she was only aware of one instance a while back when one man tried to apply for a ballot for his deceased mother.

Reporters yesterday brought up allegations of fraud to Republican Speaker of the State House of Representatives Bryan Cutler, and he responded by talking more generally about voter issues - for example, with provisional ballots, where some people claim they got mail ballots without asking.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRYAN CUTLER: Which is why they weren't allowed to vote in person. They'll all be individually adjudicated, and it's likely to be found that many of those individuals accidentally checked the enroll-me-every-time box.

SELYUKH: He says state lawmakers are focused on the integrity of the procedure.

SIMON: Alina, why is the count in Pennsylvania taking so darn long?

SELYUKH: It's about those mail-in votes, a deluge of a pandemic - because of the pandemic. It's sort of lots of people voting by mail. In many places, these ballots could've been prepared in advance for counting - taken out of envelopes, straightened out, that kind of thing. In Pennsylvania, the state Legislature decided not to allow any kind of processing of mail-in ballots until actual Election Day. And so that's why you have both the delay and this perceived flip, right? The in-person votes got counted first. Donald Trump appeared to have a strong lead. Then they began counting the mail-ins - tend to skew Democrat, propelled Biden ahead.

Republicans have been trying to disqualify specifically mail ballots that were postmarked by Election Day but arrived afterward. Last night, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued an order about that, just saying all counties should keep these ballots segregated in a separate bucket, which is something that Pennsylvania officials say they have already been doing. And either way, they say that number of these late-arriving ballots is pretty small.

SIMON: NPR's Alina Selyukh in Philadelphia, thanks so much for being with us.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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