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Voters in pivotal Pennsylvania keep nation on edge of seat

MARK SCOLFORO and MICHAEL RUBINKAM
The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Legal challenges and a mountain of uncounted ballots promised a long watch Wednesday to find out who the people of Pennsylvania chose as president, even as a host of other major races in the state — including for several congressional seats, statewide officers and the Legislature — stayed unresolved.

Voters turned out in large numbers for an election that produced few of the glitches some had feared. But the state's decision to greatly expand mail-in voting means it could still be days before it's clear whether President Donald Trump repeated his surprise Pennsylvania victory from four years ago or whether native son Joe Biden would collect its 20 electoral votes, the most of any state yet to be called by The Associated Press.

"What's most important is that we have accurate results and that every vote is counted, even if that takes a little longer," Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said after polls closed. "So I'm urging Pennsylvania to just to remain calm, be patient, stay united on election night and in the days ahead."

More:York County voter turnout could hit record 90%, commissioner says

More:Pennsylvania one of three states that hold key to presidential race

Republicans and a voter filed a federal lawsuit accusing officials in suburban Philadelphia's Montgomery County of illegally processing mail-in ballots before Tuesday for the purpose of allowing voters to fix problems with their ballots.

A federal judge in Philadelphia set a hearing for Wednesday morning on the bid to stop the count of 49 ballots that were amended and returned there.

But the state's highest court has not prohibited counties from allowing voters to fix their ballots, said Kelly Cofrancisco, a county spokesperson. 

"We believe in doing whatever we can to afford those who have legally requested and returned a ballot a fair opportunity to have their vote count," Cofrancisco said.

Also, in a lawsuit filed Tuesday night in a statewide appellate court, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania and five other plaintiffs asked to block counties from allowing voters whose mail-in ballots were disqualified to be able to cast a vote by provisional ballot.

The lawsuit said the state Supreme Court has already ruled that state law provides no such avenue for a voter to fix a disqualified vote. In Oct. 21 guidance to counties, state elections officials said a voter whose mail-in or absentee ballot was rejected could still vote in person by a provisional ballot.

The state's top election official, Kathy Boockvar, insisted that the practice singled out by the lawsuit is legal. Regardless, she said there aren't "overwhelming" numbers of voters who cast provisional ballots after their mail-in ballots were disqualified, but she did not give an exact figure.

The state Supreme Court — citing Postal Service delays, the huge number of people voting by mail because of COVID-19, and the strain on county boards of election — ordered counties to count mail-in ballots received as many as three days after the vote, so long as they were mailed by Election Day.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a Republican effort to block the counting of late-arriving mail-in votes, but it could revisit the issue.

Trump has tried to sow doubt about the fairness of the election, saying the only way Democrats could win Pennsylvania is to cheat. Without evidence, he said Monday that the three-day period for mailed ballots would allow "rampant and unchecked cheating" and would induce street violence. 

And early Wednesday, he stated without evidence that Democrats were trying to "steal" the election. He also falsely said votes could not be cast after polls closed.

Later in an appearance at the White House, he made premature claims of victory and said he would take the election to the Supreme Court. It was unclear exactly what legal action he might try to pursue.

The unrest he predicted did not materialize in Pennsylvania, but scattered voting issues included problems with voting machines and tardy poll workers.

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

A judge ordered a polling place in Scranton, Democrat Biden's hometown, to remain open an additional 45 minutes because machines had been briefly out of commission earlier in the day.

All of Pennsylvania's 18 members of Congress sought reelection, and in early results, at least 11 won — Republicans John Joyce, Fred Keller, Guy Reschenthaler, Glenn Thompson, Lloyd Smucker and Dan Meuser; and Democrats Mike Doyle, Dwight Evans, Brendan Boyle, Mary Gay Scanlon and Madeleine Dean.

A pair of Democratic incumbents, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Treasurer Joe Torsella, sought reelection, while Pennsylvanians also voted for a new auditor general to replace term-limited Democrat Eugene DePasquale.

Control of the state House was also at stake, with Democrats needing nine seats to seize the majority from Republicans after a decade out of power. Democrats also had a gap to make up in the state Senate.

Lines were long around the state. In chilly Philadelphia, Shavere McLean, 36, bundled up and brought coffee, a chair and snacks as she waited to vote for Biden, saying, "I just want a better leader, someone who cares about everyone."

In the Delaware River town of Milford, cars honked at Gail Just, 70, as she held a Trump-Pence sign, saying she supports Trump because he "gets things done."