HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania voters turned out in large numbers Tuesday for an election that produced few of the glitches some had feared, leaving in their wake a mountain of ballots that will have to be counted in the coming days amid intense national scrutiny.
The battleground state's decision to greatly expand mail-in voting for the first time this year means it could be days before it's clear whether President Donald Trump repeated his crucial Pennsylvania victory from four years ago or whether native son Joe Biden will collect its 20 electoral votes.
“What’s most important is that we have accurate results and that every vote is counted, even if that takes a little longer,” Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said an hour after polls closed. “So I’m urging Pennsylvania to just to remain calm, be patient, stay united on election night and in the days ahead.”
As a sign of the state's importance, Democrat Biden visited his hometown of Scranton on Tuesday and Republican Trump called in to a northeastern Pennsylvania radio show with just hours left in the voting.
The president announced his opposition to a local stormwater ordinance that critics have called a rain tax. Trump told radio station WILK he may end it by executive order, calling the fee “one of the most ridiculous and unfair taxes.”
All of Pennsylvania's 18 members of Congress sought reelection, and in early results at least seven won — Republicans John Joyce, Fred Keller and Glenn Thompson in the GOP-dominant central part of the state, and Dan Meuser in the northeast, along with Democrats Mike Doyle in Pittsburgh and Dwight Evans and Brendan Boyle in Philadelphia.
A pair of Democratic incumbents, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Treasurer Joe Torsella, are seeking reelection, while Pennsylvanians voted for a new auditor general to replace term-limited Democrat Eugene DePasquale.
Control of the state House is also at stake, with Democrats needing nine seats to seize the majority from Republicans after a decade out of power. Democrats also have a gap to make up in the state Senate.
Election Day brought some voting-related legal action, and more may be on the way.
Republicans and a voter outside Philadelphia filed a federal lawsuit accusing Montgomery County officials of illegally processing mail-in ballots before Tuesday for the purpose of allowing voters to fix problems with their ballots.
A federal judge in Philadelphia set a hearing for Wednesday morning on the Republican bid to stop the count of 49 ballots that were amended and returned in the suburban county.
The state’s high court has not prohibited counties from allowing voters to fix their ballots, said Kelly Cofrancisco, a county spokesperson.
And in a lawsuit filed Tuesday night in a statewide appellate court, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania and five other plaintiffs asked to block counties from allowing voters whose mail-in ballots were disqualified to be able to cast a vote by provisional ballot.
The lawsuit said the state Supreme Court has already ruled that state law provides no such avenue for a voter to fix a disqualified vote. In Oct. 21 guidance to counties, state elections officials said a voter whose mail-in or absentee ballot was rejected could still vote in person by a provisional ballot.
The state’s top election official, Kathy Boockvar, insisted that the practice singled out by the lawsuit is legal. Regardless, she said there aren’t “overwhelming” numbers of voters who cast a provisional ballot after their mail-in ballot was disqualified, but she did not give an exact figure.
The state Supreme Court — citing Postal Service delays, the huge number of people voting by mail because of COVID-19, and the strain on county boards of election — ordered counties to count mail-in ballots received as many as three days after the vote, so long as they were mailed by Election Day.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a Republican effort to block the counting of late-arriving mail-in votes, but it could revisit the issue.
Trump has tried to sow doubt about the fairness of the election, saying the only way Democrats could win Pennsylvania is to cheat. Without evidence, he said late Monday the three-day period will allow “rampant and unchecked cheating” and will induce street violence.
The unrest some had braced for did not materialize, but there were scattered voting issues, including problems with voting machines and tardy poll workers in the morning.
A judge ordered two precincts at a Scranton elementary school to remain open an additional 45 minutes because machines had been briefly out of commission earlier in the day.
In Pittsburgh, a polling place couldn’t open on time because the judge of elections’ car was stolen, according to Allegheny County spokesperson Amie Downs. The car contained a suitcase with election paperwork and keys to a ballot scanner but was recovered.
At another Pittsburgh polling place, two people were removed for causing a disturbance, Downs said.
And in Philadelphia, a poll worker improperly blocked a Trump campaign poll watcher from entering a voting precinct in the mistaken belief he wasn’t allowed to be there, said Kevin Feeley, spokesperson for the Board of City Commissioners, which oversees elections. The poll watcher was eventually allowed in, he said.
A line of about 150 people stretched a city block at one polling site in Philadelphia, where Shavere McLean, 36, a massage therapist, came bundled against the 39-degree chill. She also brought a chair, an apple, an orange and a cup of coffee.
“I tried to be prepared,” she said. McLean intended to vote for Biden. “I just want a better leader, someone who cares about everyone.”
In Milford, a northeastern Pennsylvania town close to the border with New York and New Jersey, most of the cars passing through the main intersection honked at Gail Just and her Trump-Pence sign. Just, 70, said she supports Trump because he “gets things done.”
Sam Goldman helped organize an outdoor watch party on Independence Mall in Philadelphia.
“This is the town square, right? Should Trump declare a victory before the election is over, should he win, should he just say, ‘This is over, I’m not going anywhere,’ we want to be in a position to respond to whatever happens together,” said Goldman, 33.
Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania. Contributing to this report were Natalie Pompilio in Philadelphia and Associated Press writers Maryclaire Dale and Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia; Marc Levy in Harrisburg; and David Porter in Milford.