Election officials in some states described it as a night and planned to resume counting in the morning, while some counties in Pennsylvania did not even begin scheduling their votes by mail until later Wednesday morning. Mailed ballots, which broke records this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, are expected to endorse Biden, whose campaign encouraged Democrats to vote early, while in-person voting on Election Day may have given Trump an advantage.
Trump and his allies have repeatedly called for the results to be counted quickly so that the winner is announced on election night, although officials technically have days or weeks to complete the official census before the state totals are approved. But in three major states – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – election officials were not permitted to begin processing absentee ballots until or shortly before Election Day, after Republican-led state legislatures successfully opposed changing laws to allow for early preparations like other states.
After Biden made comments early Wednesday calling for patience as the vote count continued, Trump attacked the legitimate vote counting process and falsely claimed he had won in states where millions of votes had yet to be counted. Twitter described Trump’s tweet alleging that the election was stolen from him “disputed and may be misleading.”
In Pennsylvania, where officials were unable to begin processing hundreds of thousands of early ballots until Tuesday, counties have made their own decisions about how to prioritize the crush.
City Commissioner Al Schmidt said officials in Philadelphia counted about 75,000 mailed ballot papers out of 350,000 ballot papers returned by late Tuesday, and a further portion is expected to be counted before officials stop overnight. The city, a major Democratic stronghold, will not have an updated number on mailed ballots until 9 a.m. ET, Lisa Deille, chief commissioner for the City of Philadelphia, said at a news conference early Wednesday morning.
Election workers in Lucerne County, a northeastern county near Scranton, stopped counting the ballots by mail on Tuesday night and will resume Wednesday morning, according to county administrator David Bedre. He said the county had counted about 26,000 mailed ballot papers of nearly 60,000 people.
Montgomery County, northwest of Philadelphia, is planning to count “24 hours a day through to completion,” according to county spokesperson Kelly Covrancesco.
In Georgia, where rules allowed pre-processing, major counties reported backups and sent workers home instead of ending the count overnight.
By 10:30 PM ET on Tuesday, Fulton – the largest county in the state and including Atlanta – had counted all personal votes and had stopped mailing ballots in the evening. Officials there plan to resume the absentee count on Wednesday morning at 8 am, Fulton County spokeswoman Jessica Corbett told CNN late Tuesday.
Fulton County, the most populous in Atlanta, still has an estimated 48,118 absentee ballots remaining to count, and that doesn’t count the votes received in the mail on Tuesday. In neighboring DeKalb County, another Democratic stronghold, there will be election officials running 79,000 absentee ballots in the mail starting at 11 a.m. EDT on Wednesday.
Georgia has faced other issues as well. County spokeswoman Regina Waller said a tube exploded early Tuesday morning in Atlanta’s State Farm yard above the processing room for all absentee ballots in Fulton County, delaying the counting process there. Ballot papers were not damaged, according to Waller.
A suspected problem with voting scheduling software caused delays in counting up to 80,000 ballot papers by mail in Gwinnett County, east Atlanta, according to a county spokesperson. Officials believe the program has mistakenly identified flaws in the way voters filled out ballot papers.
Legal battles are looming
The Republican National Committee braced for a large-scale legal battle that could come in for a meager competition in one of the major states. “We have thousands of volunteer lawyers and many law firms are already in these conflicting states,” said RNC spokeswoman Mandy Merritt.
The Democrats also mobilized their legitimate army to fight any potential court battles.
There are already legal battles brewing after the election. Republicans filed a lawsuit challenging at least 1,200 absentee votes in the Democratic-leaning Montgomery County outside Philadelphia. A federal judge will hear the challenge on Wednesday morning.
Three Republicans observing the mail voting process for federal court described how they viewed the absentee ballot with potential technical issues, and believed that election officials might impermissibly try to give voters opportunities to fix ballot papers that would have disqualified them. Republicans claimed that the county started processing ballots by mail too early and was trying illegally to allow voters to fix defects, such as adding missing inner envelopes.
Also in Pennsylvania, Republican Rep. Mike Kelly and others filed a lawsuit in state court Tuesday evening accusing the Pennsylvania Secretary of State of illegally reporting the possibility of offering temporary ballot papers to absentee voters who would be rejected.
In states where ballot papers are still pending, officials urged patience while counting results. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, released a video Tuesday evening warning voters to “keep calm” while counting.
“Across the state, dedicated county workers are tirelessly prepared to make sure everyone’s votes count,” Wolf said.
In Milwaukee, absentee ballots have been counted at a central facility, and county election director Julieta Henry expects it to take place by 5 a.m. on Wednesday, according to a spokesperson. “It is not unusual in any way, shape, or form for judicial authorities to count until morning,” said Megan Wolf, Wisconsin’s chief election official.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who had suggested in the weeks leading up to the election that the count could take until Friday, told reporters Tuesday evening that the state may “see a full result for every scheduling outside Michigan within the next 24 hours.” The pace in Detroit, Benson said, As 120,000 absentee ballots had already been counted late Tuesday, it confirmed that the state was on its way to doing the tally of results sooner than expected.
Detroit deputy writer Andre Gilbert told CNN that the city, the largest in Wayne County, will report unofficial results “perhaps early in the morning,” with voting day ending soon and absentee ballots will take longer. According to the most recent official report from the city clerk, there are still nearly 92,000 absentee ballots in the count.
Technology issues in multiple countries
In several states other issues emerged that delayed the vote count. In Outagamie County, Wisconsin, just outside Green Bay, poll workers on Tuesday were working to divert votes from about 13,500 false absentee ballots to clean ballots that would not disrupt the electronic tabulation machine, the county clerk told CNN.
In South Carolina, a print error delayed the counting of 14,600 absentee ballots by mail in Dorchester County, north of Charleston, until later in the week, state election officials said. The signs at the top of the ballot papers that alert the scanner to start scheduling the votes, are so small that the scanner cannot read them, said Todd Bellman, executive director of Dorchester County Elections.
Election officials sent a statement Tuesday evening saying they planned to run the polls through a scanner again starting Wednesday morning. Bellman told CNN that if that didn’t work, each vote might have to be manually repeated by the poll worker using a touch-screen voting machine, with a witness monitoring the process.
County Commissioner Brandon Arrington said the internet blackout occurred Tuesday in Osceola County, Central Florida, and ballot papers were taken to the county election office for counting. Arrington said he was not sure how much delay this might cause or how many ballot papers would be affected. Osceola includes the town of Kissimmee, just south of Orlando.
While election officials expressed concern about voting challenges during the pandemic, battlefield states reported that voting at polling stations was often smooth, with only sporadic incidents. Michigan State Secretary Benson said Tuesday that “constituencies are islands of calm,” while a spokesperson for the election supervisor in Broward County, Florida, said the day was “boring.”
This story has been updated with additional developments.
Caitlin Bolantz, Nick Valencia, Jason Morris, Caroline Kenny, Bill Weir, Annie Grayer, Kelly Mina, Sarah Murray, Casey Tolan, Meredith Edwards, Curt Devin, Scott Bronstein, Rob Cosnia, Kevin Liptak and Ryan Nobles contributed to this report.