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Big turnout: About 75% of York County voters participated in election

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Voter turnout in York County didn't reach the 90% margin officials predicted late Tuesday, but it was still a record night for participation in the presidential election based on Election Day returns.

Of the county's approximately 311,000 registered voters, 157,477 people voted in person Tuesday and another 75,210 voted by mail, York County Commissioner Julie Wheeler said Wednesday, for a total of 232,657 ballots cast and a turnout rate of 74.8%

"I think it's great," Wheeler said of the numbers. "I think there's an interest there. More people are voting." She added that participation is "what democracy is all about."

For reference, York County had 70.8% turnout in 2016's presidential election, 68.3% turnout in 2012, and 65.8% turnout in 2008, county spokesperson Mark Walters said.

The elections office finished tabulating all ballots in its possession, both in-person and mail-in, shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday, officials said.

Wheeler said the county still has to count provisional ballots, which will likely take about a week to calculate, and military and overseas ballots that are still arriving, so Wednesday's vote total is not the final number.

Hundreds wait in line to vote at Northeastern Middle School, Tuesday, November 3, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

The figure that's still up in the air is the number of mail-in ballots that arrive between Wednesday and Friday.

Under a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, all mail-in ballots that arrive by 5 p.m. Friday must be counted unless there's a postmark clearly indicating the ballot was mailed after Election Day.

Ballots without a postmark or those with illegible postmarks must be considered valid, per the order, "unless a preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that it was mailed after Election Day," the ruling states.

But the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet ruled on a challenge from the Republican Party of Pennsylvania to the state court decision, so York County will not open any of those ballots until the courts resolve the issue, Wheeler said.

Ballots in York County that arrive after Election Day will be segregated from the rest of the ballots and kept in a secure room, where they'll be organized based on the date they arrived and whether there was a postmark on the envelope, Wheeler said.

"We are not going to touch any of those ballots until we know what the Supreme Court says," she said.

Wheeler said less than 1% of the mail-in ballots received were "naked ballots," meaning the ballot was not inside a secrecy envelope.

Under state law, naked ballots are considered invalid and can't be counted in vote totals, so the county has set them aside in the secure room, Wheeler said, just in case there's a change in the statute or a court order that would require them to be counted later.

The 75,210 valid mail-in ballots the county received amounted to about 81% of the total 93,000 ballots sent out to voters.

"We know that the Postal Service did the best they could, but we are aware that there are some people that haven't received their mail-in ballots," Wheeler said Tuesday night.

Voter registration graphic

As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, 61% of York County voters supported President Donald Trump compared with 37% for former Vice President Joe Biden.

In the race for Pennsylvania's 10th Congressional District, 57% of York County voters backed incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, compared with 42% who supported state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, the Democratic challenger.

The 10th District race has been ruled too close to call, and mail-in ballots from Cumberland and Dauphin counties were still being tabulated.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, held on to his seat in the 11th District against Democratic challenger Sarah Hammond, capturing 69% of the vote in York County compared with 29% for Hammond.

Commissioner Doug Hoke said the need for provisional ballots may have contributed to long wait times at some polling places.

Wait times varied across the county. Some voters were in and out of their polling place in 15 minutes, while others waited in line for two, three or even four hours, as was the case in East Manchester Township.

Hoke said he was proud of how county officials had handled the election so far.

"It's very difficult to plan an election like this in a presidential year when there are so many moving parts to it," Hoke said, mentioning the recent court rulings about mail-in ballots and state legislation dealing with the time frame to legally start precanvassing ballots.

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