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The Counting Of Mail-In Ballots Is A Major Issue In Pennsylvania


Let's turn now to Pennsylvania, which is always a crucial swing state, especially this year though. Pennsylvania will not start processing ballots until today. But a recent Supreme Court ruling says that ballots that come in for three days after Election Day will still be counted. President Trump has tried to sow distrust about the Pennsylvania election, saying in a tweet that allowing those votes will, quote, "induce violence." Here's Pennsylvania's attorney general, Josh Shapiro, talking on CNN.


JOSH SHAPIRO: Donald Trump can get out there and say whatever the hell he wants on election night. But the only thing that matters is when we've counted up all the legal eligible votes here in Pennsylvania. And as the attorney general of Pennsylvania, I will protect the will of the people.

MARTIN: So we're going to bring in the person who is actually in charge of overseeing the election in the state of Pennsylvania. The secretary of state, Kathy Boockvar, is with us. Thank you so much for taking the time on such an important day. We appreciate it.

KATHY BOOCKVAR: Absolutely. Thanks for having me on.

MARTIN: Let me just ask straight up here. President Trump has explicitly tried to undermine voters' faith in the election process, especially with mail-in ballots. What kind of damage has that done in Pennsylvania, do you think?

BOOCKVAR: You know, we have done so - there have been so many amazing partners - federal, state and local - who have done just as effective a job making sure every voter knows that no matter how they vote - and we have more options in Pennsylvania this year than we've ever had in the history of the commonwealth. No matter how you vote, there's really intense processes in place to make sure every vote is eligible and that every eligible vote is counted accurately and securely.

MARTIN: Do you think that message is getting through to people?

BOOCKVAR: Well, I can tell you that over 2.5 million Pennsylvanians have already taken advantage of voting by mail or voting early. And just for historic reference, that's - in 2016, we had 260,000 Pennsylvanians who voted absentee. So we are going to end up with 10 times the number of voters voting by mail than ever before in history. So yes, I think it's gotten through loud and clear.

MARTIN: So let's talk about what you do with those ballots. I mean, in June, Pennsylvania had its first test, like a run-through in processing mail-in ballots for the primary, right? It took...


MARTIN: ...Some counties two weeks to tally those votes. You're now dealing with many more ballots. Can you give us an estimate of how long you think it's going to take to count them all?

BOOCKVAR: Sure. I - you know, as I've been saying, I think the overwhelming majority of ballots, of mail-in and absentee as well as in-person Election Day ballots will be counted within a couple of days. And I want to just make sure everybody understands. What - the - I understand that the common - the way it was described in the primary was that it took some counties two weeks. That was provisional ballots. That was the ballots that are late arriving. We don't certify our election in Pennsylvania until 20 days after the election. That's actually normal.


BOOCKVAR: But most counties finished counting their mail-in and absentee ballots within a week, and all the large counties really did. And so - but I want to be clear that since then, the counties have staffed up. They've got in equipment. They have best practices in place. They have timelines. They are ready to start, well, in about 45 minutes, most of them. And I expect it's going to take a couple of days, and the counties are counting 24/7. They are just completely dedicated to counting every vote accurately as quickly as humanly possible.

MARTIN: Lastly, President Trump has said on more than one occasion, encouraging his supporters to go out and watch the polls today, which then inevitably leads to concerns about possible voter intimidation. What are state and local officials there doing to make sure that voters feel safe?

BOOCKVAR: Yeah. Well, let me start with by saying - I want to make it very clear that voter intimidation is illegal under state and federal law. And we have never been so ready to both - both prevent and also defuse anything that arises. So we have an interagency work group on election security and preparedness that Governor Wolf formed in 2018. We at the Department of State are closely working with PEMA, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, you know, the Pennsylvania State Police, National Guard, Department of Military & Veterans Affairs, state and local and federal officials across the country and across the state to make sure that every voter is safe and secure, no matter how they vote.

MARTIN: Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, thank you for taking the time today.

BOOCKVAR: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.