“Pennsylvania is perhaps the most coveted state on the 2020 electoral map,” said Chris Borick, who runs the widely respected polling outfit at Muhlenberg College. “Layer in all the procedural issues — which are significant, ongoing, and complex — and you create this dynamic that is overwhelming in many ways to voters. People are concerned about their votes being counted.”
Some of the challenges were caused by litigious political parties, and by a President who has amplified Pennsylvania-specific disinformation. Other issues were triggered by the coronavirus, or are more routine election-year hiccups. Here’s a breakdown of the situation in Pennsylvania.
Lawsuits brought by Democrats and Republicans in the Keystone State have forced judges to change some of the rules for the election at the last minute — and the legal fights aren’t over.
“The most important thing at this point is the lack of certainty,” said David Becker, founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research. “It’s not about what the rules are. It’s about when the rules will be settled. Voters need certainty. They need to know how to navigate the process. Pennsylvania is probably the place where things are most unsettled right now.”
Fears of voter intimidation
The Trump campaign caused disruptions and created an uncomfortable situation for some voters last week by sending unauthorized “poll watchers” to early voting sites in Philadelphia.
“This is about bringing people into Black and Brown communities and try and intimidate them. That’s what the President of the United States and his enablers are trying to do,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said on MSNBC last week. “As the chief law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I sure as hell won’t let him get away with that.”
Trump and his campaign have blitzed Pennsylvania with disinformation, spreading dubious information about mail-in voting across many platforms, from social media to the debate stage.
“Trump’s standing in the polls is not in a great place,” said Borick, the Muhlenberg College pollster. “So, his paths to victory might involve efforts to depress turnout and to question the validity of results, if it comes to that. The President and his campaign have engaged in that.”
Pennsylvania is also dealing with the regular challenges that come with running an election in a presidential year. In Philadelphia, a couple of technical issues led to long lines and frustrated voters, as the largest county in the state recently kicked off its first wave of in-person voting.
The statewide voter registration database, which is run by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, went down on Tuesday for a little more than an hour. The problem meant election workers were unable to look up voters and were unable to process and accept mail-in ballot applications.
CNN reached out to Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar’s office for comment.
Also, because of new election laws passed in 2019, this is the first year that any Pennsylvania voter can vote by mail. This is also the first presidential election where the state will use new voting systems that provide a paper trail and the opportunity for robust post-election audits.
There are always growing pains with changes like these. Officials have been working quickly to identify issues and fix them, but Daniel Mallinson, professor of public policy and administration at Penn State Harrisburg, says even small problems can lead to deeper concerns of legitimacy.
“That’s probably my bigger concern, the legitimacy being undermined by these smaller things where there is a process for sorting them out,” Mallinson told CNN.
While Pennsylvania has already seen some early hiccups, the post-election process could be even more chaotic. State Republicans started taking steps that could potentially disrupt the vote-counting process or even lead to attempts to overturn the results of the popular vote.
“What is most important are the fundamentals of every free and fair election all over the world: every eligible voter must be allowed to vote, their vote must count, and that count should determine the winner,” Wolf said in a statement emailed to CNN on Friday.