PENNSYLVANIA — Early mail-in voting has begun in Pennsylvania as officials prepare for another marathon in vote-counting.
According to Leigh Chapman, Pennsylvania's acting secretary of the commonwealth, approximately 1.1 million mail-in ballots had already been requested as of Oct. 11. Less than 53,000 have been returned thus far, and election officials are barred by law from opening them until Election Day. The process has also been complicated by a conflict over whether undated or misdated ballots can be counted.
Pennsylvania is home to one of the nation's highest profile Senate contests between Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz. A marquee governor's race is also happening in the state this year.
Here are some key points and races taking place in Pennsylvania.
The latest on voting rights, ballot access in Pa.
Though challenged in court by Republicans in the General Assembly, Pennsylvanians are still able to use no-excuse mail-in voting. Those interested must go to their local elections office to request a ballot in person. Applicants must bring identification, such as a driver's license, or provide the last four digits of their Social Security number. If approved, voters can receive a mail ballot, fill it out and turn it in during the same visit. This can be done as soon as the ballots are ready.
Early voting is allowed until one week before the election. The deadline is the same as applying for a mail ballot.
A person confined in a prison, community confinement facility or alternative correctional facility for a felony conviction cannot vote, and a person convicted of violating any provision of the Pennsylvania Election Code within the past four years cannot vote. Individuals on parole or probation; incarcerated for a misdemeanor; incarcerated while awaiting trial or serving house arrest can vote. Voting rights are restored automatically at the end of a sentence.
Voters who are going to their polling place for the first time must show identification. That can include a Pennsylvania driver's license or PennDOT ID card, an ID issued by any commonwealth agency, an ID issued by the U.S. government, a U.S. passport, a U.S. armed forces ID, a student ID or an employee ID. If voters don't have a photo ID, they can use one of the following with a name and address: confirmation issued by the county voter registration office, a non-photo ID issued by the state, a non-photo ID issued by the U.S. government, a firearms permit, a current utility bill, a current bank statement, a current paycheck or a government check.
What will happen on Election Day
On Nov. 8 voters who didn't opt for the mail-in route will head to the polls. Electioneering — the soliciting of votes, displaying campaign materials or handing out campaign paraphernalia — is illegal inside polling places and within 10 feet of the entrances.
At the top of the ticket in Pennsylvania are: Democrats Josh Shapiro and Austin Davis running for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively, against Republicans Doug Mastriano and Carrie Lewis DelRosso; Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz facing off for a soon-to-be vacated U.S. Senate seat; and state House and Senate races from across the commonwealth.
Several third-party candidates, none polling at above 3%, are also on the ballot. For governor they are Libertarian Matt Hackenburg, Green Party nominee Christina DiGuilio and Keystone Party nominee Joe Soloski, and for U.S. Senate they are Libertarian Erik Chase Gerhardt, Daniel Wassmer of the Keystone Party and Richard Weiss of the Green Party.
The winner of the gubernatorial race is to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the winner of the U.S. Senate contest is to replace U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican who is retiring.
Why it matters
The election outcomes for governor and U.S. Senate are expected to be especially consequential.
In Harrisburg, Wolf has vetoed 64 bills from the Republican-dominated General Assembly since taking office in 2015. Shapiro, a fellow Democrat, would likely do the same, and has said as much when it comes to protecting abortion access from any additional restrictions.
Mastriano, meanwhile, has characterized himself as a true conservative and is widely expected to paint the largely "purple" commonwealth a deep red if elected.
In the contest between Fetterman and Oz, the winner may help determine whether Democrats will continue to control the Senate in Washington, D.C. The current makeup is 50-48 for Republicans, but the two independents in this chamber caucus with Democrats and Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris often represents the tie-breaking vote.
This contest, recently switched from "Lean Democrat" to "Toss Up" by Cook Political Report, has been identified by national observers as one of the critical races in determining whether President Joe Biden's party will suffer the typical "midterm curse."
If elected, Mastriano could make good on his pledge to radically overhaul future elections in Pennsylvania in the name of protecting the system from fraud. But there were just four documented cases of voter fraud in 2020 that resulted in convictions, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.
Mastriano has suggested purging voter rolls entirely, pushed for expanded poll watching, mandating universal voter ID, and the elimination of both ballot drop boxes and no-excuse mail-in voting.
Another development to watch in November is related to how undated ballots are handled.
The U.S. Supreme Court tossed a lower court decision to allow these votes to count. Wolf's administration has brushed this off and announced that the commonwealth is still advising county election officials to tally these votes.
Republicans in the General Assembly, meanwhile, have asked the courts to again intervene and negate the Department of State's guidance.
The way in which this conflict is ultimately decided could change the outcome of some close races.
What they are saying
"I think (pre-Dobbs) almost all the national strategists that I follow — and I agreed with it — believed it was going to be a Republican rout" in November, said G. Terry Madonna, senior fellow for political affairs at Millersville University. "But the Supreme Court's abortion decision has motivated Democrats, there's absolutely no doubt about that."
"I think Doug Mastriano is running perhaps the worst campaign in a swing state in America," said Jessica Taylor, an editor with the national election analysis site Cook Political Report.
“(Fetterman) doesn’t want to just do the procedural f***ery that the Democrats and Republicans both do to score cheap points,” said Joe Corrigan, a Democratic political strategist. “Doing things that are tokens or just for show is really important in politics. Symbolism is important. Which maybe he doesn’t quite subscribe to that theory. He’s a guy who wants to do stuff.”
Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity on Oz: “Anybody that talks to him, even people that said to me, ‘Stacy, I would never, ever vote for Dr. Oz,’ the minute they had a conversation with him, they came away basically changed."
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Though both Mastriano and, to a lesser extent, Oz are trailing in the polls, Republicans may do better than expected. Even late-stage polling, for example, underestimated Pennsylvanians' support for Donald Trump by approximately 8 points in 2016 and 5 points in 2020. Experts have blamed this on MAGA Republicans who seem more reluctant to participate in polling than other voters.
But any good news for the GOP on Election Day should be tempered with the understanding that the count for mail-in ballots won't be finished for a few days. Figures released by the Pennsylvania Department of State earlier this month suggest that registered Democrats are voting by mail at a 4-1 rate over registered Republicans.