News & Politics

‘It takes time’: Chapman warns of ‘days-long’ vote-counting process ahead of midterms

The acting secretary of state said people ‘should not expect complete results on election night.’

Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman

Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman Commonwealth Media Services

Pennsylvania’s top election official wants voters to temper their expectations when it comes to knowing the results of this year’s midterm elections. 

Speaking to reporters at a virtual briefing on Monday, Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman noted that it could take days to determine the winner in the state’s upcoming elections, citing the large amount of outstanding mail ballots and the limited time counties have to process them. 

“Voters, candidates and the public should not expect complete results on election night,” Chapman said. “Counties aren’t able to start pre-canvassing mail-in and absentee ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day. Because of that, it takes time.”

Voters, candidates and the public should not expect complete results on election night.
– Acting Pennsylvania Secretary of State Leigh Chapman 

Chapman said the Department of State supports giving county election workers up to two weeks to pre-canvass ballots, which is the process of removing ballots from their envelopes and counting and tallying the votes. Pre-canvassing doesn’t include formally recording or publishing the results, per the state’s Election Code

But to date, some state lawmakers haven’t been on board with Chapman’s request. While Democrats have sponsored standalone pre-canvassing legislation that would expand the time counties have to pre-canvass ballots, the only pre-canvassing legislation that has advanced in the General Assembly has included other measures – like universal voter ID or signature-matching requirements – that have been opposed by Gov. Tom Wolf. 

State Rep. Seth Grove, who chairs the House State Government Committee, said earlier this year that there aren’t enough votes in the House Republican Caucus to move a standalone pre-canvassing bill forward. 

Chapman said that without the extra time that counties have been advocating for, current law states that pre-canvassing can begin at 7 a.m. on Election Day at the earliest. 

The briefing came as worries begin to mount that allies of former President Donald Trump could seek to challenge election laws and processes throughout the country in the leadup to 2024. A recent Rolling Stone report revealed that Trump is staging calls and meetings to discuss potential challenges to the midterms, including in Pennsylvania. 

Chapman was unable to answer questions related to how counties should handle mail-in ballots that lack a date, citing ongoing litigation surrounding the issue. However, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to vacate a lower court ruling on undated ballots, the department said counties should count ballots that lack a date. Chapman also said the Department of State has received threats in the leadup to the midterms, as have county offices, though she did not elaborate. 

Threats against the department intensified following the high court’s decision to vacate a May decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Chapman said. She added that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have helped organize trainings to help the offices handle election-related threats. “It’s unfortunate that we’ve received those threats,” Chapman said. “We are working with our federal and state partners to ensure that my staff is protected, as well as county election offices.”