High-tech processing center aims to count votes quickly

City Commissioner Lisa Deeley leads officials and reporters on a tour Monday, Oct. 26, of a ballot processing facility at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
PHOTO: Metro File

About 265,000 completed mail-in ballots are in a fenced-off area inside a cavernous room at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City, ready to be counted.

That can’t happen until 7 a.m. on Election Day — an effort to allow county and city election officials to begin counting early stalled in Harrisburg.

City Commissioner Lisa Deeley, who led elected leaders and reporters Monday on a tour of the mail-in ballot processing site, said millions of dollars have been spent to bring in high-tech machines to enable workers to handle the heavy load.

“This is the first time in the general election that we’re receiving this many mail-in ballots, so we are committed to getting the ballots opened, scanned and counted as quickly and as accurately as possible,” she said.

Deeley, who chairs the three-person board that oversees voting in Philadelphia, wouldn’t put a time frame on when the public can expect to learn the outcome, which could play a role in who wins the White House.

Republicans have been challenging a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that will allow ballots to be counted as late as Friday, Nov. 6, unless a “preponderance of evidence” shows they were mailed after Nov. 3.

President Donald Trump, who has been casting doubt on the electoral process, expressed unfounded concerns about fraud Monday at a rally in Allentown.

“We’re watching you, governor, in Philadelphia,” Trump said. “A lot of bad things. A lot of bad things happen there with the counting of votes.”

“He says a lot of things. We’re here doing the work,” Mayor Jim Kenney responded. “He’s going to say what he’s going to say. He does what he does. It doesn’t really make any difference to us.”

More than 250,000 completed mail-in ballots are in a large room at the Pennsylvania Convention Center ready to be counted. PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Nearly 430,000 mail-in ballots have been requested in Philadelphia, and the deadline to apply for one is Tuesday at 5 p.m.

The City Commissioners Office said its 17 satellite election offices, where voters can request a ballot, fill it out and submit it, will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday. Anyone in line by 5 p.m. will be able to request a mail-in ballot, officials said.

Anyone who wants to vote in the presidential election after Tuesday will have to go to the polls Nov. 3, unless they qualify for an emergency absentee ballot due to an unexpected hospitalization or disability.

Hundreds of election employees will begin working 24/7 on Election Day to count the ballots at the Convention Center, Deeley said.

Inside the space, which is larger than two football fields, is a high-speed sorting machine, which divides ballots by the voter’s ward and division.

Previously, including during the June primary, that process was done mostly by hand, according to Deeley.

After being sorted, the ballots will be taken to extraction tables, which workers will use to remove the “declaration” and “secrecy” envelopes.

An election worker demonstration an extraction table that allows for the easy removal of ballots from mail-in envelopes. PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Then, the votes will be counted by scanners manned by the employees that can tally as many as 32,000 an hour.

Deeley said the new machinery, which was purchased with about $5 million in grant money, will allow election workers to do in an hour what would have previously taken all day.

Once the ballots are scanned in, they will be stacked in a fenced-off area in the Convention Center that will be locked and under constant surveillance, she said.

Votes cast at polling sites on Nov. 3 will be counted by uploading data from voting machines in the traditional way, according to Deeley.

Kenney, who toured the facility along with reporters, called it an “impressive operation.”

He said talks are well underway about how authorities will respond to possible protests and unrest after Election Day, though he would not provide specific details.

“We do recognize that there’s going to be an emotional outburst one way or the other, and we’re prepared for it,” Kenney said.

Election officials opened up six additional drop boxes over the weekend where voters can submit their mail-in ballots.

The locations — Markward Playground, Pelbano Recreation Center, Ford PAL Recreation Center, Vogt Recreation Center, Smith Playground and Independence Branch Library — are in addition to existing boxes at City Hall, Riverview Place and Eastern State Penitentiary.

Voters must bring the ballots to the boxes themselves unless they have filled out a form designating another person to deliver it.

For more information about voting, go to philadelphiavotes.com or pavoterservices.pa.gov

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