Governor orders flags lowered for fallen Dover fire chief

Chaos, reporting glitches confuse Pa. election count, focus national attention on York County

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Until about 11:30 a.m. Thursday, the Pennsylvania Department of State's election returns website showed, inaccurately, that York County hadn't tabulated mail-in ballots yet, leading President Donald Trump's reelection campaign to flag the county as an upcoming vote boost.

In a media call Thursday morning, Trump adviser Jason Miller said the campaign is confident they'll win Pennsylvania.

"In addition to Philly and even Montgomery County, remember, we’re talking about places like York County, where we still have 77,000 ballots that have come in, or Allegheny with 45,000," Miller said. "There are still places around the state where we have numbers that are very favorable to us."

But the state's website was incorrect, as York County had counted all of its 75,210 mail-in ballots by early Wednesday morning.

The mix-up at the state, which county officials said was likely a computer glitch, added to the tension of a close race in Pennsylvania, where 20 electoral votes — and potentially the presidency — hang in the balance.

York County employees sort ballots at the York Fairground's Memorial Hall Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. About 100 county employees volunteered on their day off to help process ballots. Bill Kalina photo

Thousands of ballots were still being counted statewide Thursday, with former Vice President Joe Biden chipping away at Trump's lead.

The president's attorneys had  filed a lawsuit Wednesday to allow campaign representatives to watch the ballot counting process in Philadelphia. The Commonwealth Court ruled in Trump's favor.

Confusion ensued when national NBC News reporter Maura Barrett tweeted Thursday that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had overturned the lower court ruling, citing a report by Andrea Mitchell, also of NBC News.

A spokesperson for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts denied this.

The Philadelphia County Board of Elections later did file a petition to appeal the Commonwealth Court's decision, but there hasn't been any ruling, AOPC spokesperson Stacey Witalec said in an email.

"The Court has taken no action on this petition at this time," she stated. "All references to the Supreme Court overruling a lower court are false."

Local election officials across the state have been subject to national media scrutiny as the country waits for results, but major news outlets, such as NBC News, have been getting their information wrong.

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In a live blog Thursday, The New York Times reporter Nate Cohn reported that York County had tabulated 10,000 provisional ballots and that Biden was winning those ballots by 9 points.

This was false, county officials said.

"Reporting by The New York Times is inaccurate," county spokesperson Mark Walters stated in a news release. "York County has not counted provisional ballots. York County’s Board of Elections plans to commence counting Friday, Nov. 6."

Provisional ballots are provided at polling places when election officials need more information to verify a voter's registration status or in case a voter requested a mail-in ballot but lost it or never received it.

Of the 93,000 mail-in ballots York County sent out to voters, about 75,000 were returned.

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

Before provisional ballots can be counted, election officials must verify their information and ensure they're legal.

County officials haven't reported the number of provisional ballots cast Tuesday, and it could take up to a week to tally them. Walters said this timeframe is standard for any election year.

It appeared Cohn found the information about York County's provisional ballots from the state's election returns dashboard.

He removed the section about York County from The New York Times' online story and replaced it with the paragraph below.

"The York County provisional ballot results are no longer on the state website. Those results appeared to show Mr. Biden winning them handily. We’ve removed our reporting on it until we can get clarity on that data," he wrote.

In an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper  on Thursday afternoon, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said the state had about 550,000 uncounted mail-in ballots remaining and that she expected there could be final results that night.

As of the latest update at 1:27 p.m. Thursday, the state government's online results dashboard showed about 369,000 mail-in ballots outstanding.

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