Decision 2020

Large Majority of Mail-in Voters in Pa. Are Democrats: What That Means for Election Night

A possible effect of many more Democrats voting by mail and more Republicans voting in person could be a "red mirage." That would show strong initial results for GOP candidates followed by a "blue shift" as the mail-in ballots are counted.

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A million more Democratic voters in Pennsylvania have requested mail-in ballots than Republican voters, a huge difference that could cause a dayslong delay in declaring a winner in one of the most important states in the Nov. 3 election.

The mail-in ballots could take days to count because state law doesn't allow county election offices to begin tallying them until Election Day. Each ballot is inside two envelopes, which cannot be opened until 7 a.m. Nov. 3, and then must be run through a machine.

The process will be time-consuming, election officials say, especially since as many as 3 million voters could cast mail-in ballots in the election.

As of Oct. 12, more than 2.6 million Pennsylvanians have requested a mail-in ballot, according to state data. Registered voters have until Oct. 27 to request a mail-in ballot.

County election officials, who oversee the tally of votes, are still hoping the Republican-controlled state legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf come to a last-minute agreement to allow mail-in ballot counting earlier than that.

It is unclear exactly how such a massive number of mail-in ballots will affect the outcome of the presidential election for the Republican incumbent Donald Trump or the Democratic challenger Joe Biden, since it is the state's first with so many.

But some observers are warning of a "red mirage" late on Election Night that shows Republican candidates leading, including in the presidential race, followed by a "blue shift" as the Democrat-heavy mail-in ballots are tallied.

In addition to the shift in the election results, the large disparity may be a double-edged sword for the Democratic Party.

“What we know is that the first time that people vote by mail, there are usually a significant number of mistakes made by the voter inadvertently because they’re just not used to doing this,” said Patrick Murray, the director for the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Murray pointed to the possibility of ballots getting tossed out due to issues like voter signatures not matching, people forgetting to sign their voter declaration envelope or the infamous “naked ballot” -- in which people forget that their ballot has to be put in both the smaller “secrecy” envelope and the larger voter declaration envelope for their vote to be counted.

How many ballots get tossed could play a role in a state President Donald Trump carried by just 44,000 votes during the 2016 election.

Despite the concerns, though, Brendan Welch, the communications director for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said the party does not expect to see a large number of mail-in ballots getting tossed.

“We’re actually pretty optimistic,” Welch said. “It’s easy to follow the instructions. You just have to make sure you put your ballot in the secrecy envelope before you put it in the return envelope and then sign the declaration and mail it in.”

Officials for the Pennsylvania Republican Party did not respond to NBC10’s requests for an interview.

Welch said his party is also reminding people that they have various options when it comes to voting, even with a mail-in ballot.

People can choose to go to a polling place in person on Election Day, of course, but they can also vote early in person at their county board of elections. Those concerned about their ballot not going through the mail fast enough to be counted toward the election can also circumvent the post office altogether and drop their ballot off early at a designated drop box in the county where they’re registered to vote.

The Democratic Party has also set up a “voter protection team” staffed by experts on election law that are available to answer any voter questions, Welch said. The number to reach them is 1-833-PAVOTES.

“Remember, there are three different ways to vote and you just have to choose the one that works best for you,” Welch said.

There are still a few days left before Pennsylvania’s voter registration deadline of Oct. 19. Democrats have about 4.17 million people on their voter rolls overall, while Republicans have roughly 3.45 million on theirs, according to state election data. About 1.2 million voters are not registered with either party.

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