Philadelphia leaders stressed on Tuesday that they were just taking an extra step that could slow down the process because of Republican litigation.
“I want to make it clear that when there are conversations that take place later in the evening about whether or not Philadelphia has counted all of its ballots, that the reason some ballots will not be counted is that Republican lawyers have targeted Philadelphia — and only Philadelphia — in trying to force us to follow a procedure that no other county is doing,” City Commissioner Seth Bluestein, a Republican, said Tuesday at an open Elections Committee meeting. .
The process, known as “reconciliation of the ballot books,” is a way to prevent double voting that Philadelphia implemented in 2020 amid a dramatic expansion of mail-in ballots in the state. . It requires election workers to pause ballot counting to digitize poll books so that lists of voters who returned mail-in ballots can be compared to those who voted in person. The process typically takes three days, according to court records.
According to court records, reconciliation of poll records is not required by state law. And most counties don’t. But late last month, the Republican-led organization known as Restoring Integrity and Trust in Elections – which includes strategist Karl Rove as founder and former Attorney General William P. Barr on its board of administration — backed a lawsuit aimed at forcing Philadelphia election officials to restart the process.
In a statement, the group took credit for persuading the city to change its position.
“Any duplicate vote undermines the integrity of the system. We know double voting happens and it happens for a variety of reasons, good, bad, ugly and illegal,” said Derek Lyons, President and CEO of RITE. “Completing the audit will protect the integrity of the count. As voters increasingly choose to vote by mail, it is more essential to check ballots to guard against double voting.
In a tweet on Tuesday, the organization said any delays caused by the reconciliation of the poll book would be the fault of city officials.
City officials argued that the reconciliation process was labor-intensive and time-consuming and no longer necessary given other improved procedures to prevent double voting and voters’ growing familiarity with ballots by correspondence. In the last three elections, the reconciliation process found no double votes, according to court records.
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City officials also said they wanted to eliminate the process to comply with a new state law that provided funds to improve election administration. Philadelphia received $5.4 million under the law on the condition that ballot counting proceed “uninterrupted.” City officials said they were concerned that suspending the count to digitize the poll books would be considered a disruption, which could put them at risk of losing the grant money.
Democratic groups that have intervened in the case said the lawsuit was an effort to “sow doubt about the validity of mail-in ballots and perpetuate the evidence-less claim that ‘bad things are happening in Philadelphia.'”
On Monday, Philadelphia State Trial Court Judge Anne Marie Coyle declined to order city officials to reinstate the process, saying doing so on the eve of the election would be unduly burdensome. But Coyle issued a scathing 13-page order finding that city officials had “failed to consider the encouragement of fraudulent voting that might reasonably result” from their decision. The Republican plaintiffs immediately appealed.
“Although we technically won the lawsuit,” Bluestein said at Tuesday’s meeting, “the notice was written in such a way that we had no choice but to move forward. and restore reconciliation”. He and Commissioner Lisa Deeley (D), chair of the election committee, voted to restore the process; Commissioner Omar Sabir (D) voted against.
Most mail-in ballots will be counted on Tuesday, according to Deputy City Commissioner Nick Custodio. But before workers can count the ballots received in the last two days before the polls close, they will have to spend time scanning the poll books, as they did in the last election.
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