Behind the scenes at Allegheny County’s ballot counting operation

The 80,000-foot warehouse in the North Side neighborhood where Allegheny County's mail-in and absentee ballots are being stored and waiting to be counted on Election Day.

Colm Slevin

The 80,000-foot warehouse in the North Side neighborhood where Allegheny County’s mail-in and absentee ballots are being stored and waiting to be counted on Election Day.

By Colm Slevin, Staff Writer

Beginning next Tuesday, an 80,000-foot warehouse in Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood will become a hub of activity as Allegheny County employees begin to count hundreds of thousands of mail-in and absentee ballots. According to the Allegheny County Elections website, more than 290,000 mail-in and absentee ballots have already been returned, out of more than 410,000 ballots requested.

Hundreds of workers will help count the ballots starting on Election Day. For the first shift alone, there will be 250 workers and as many as 100 observers. In Pennsylvania, state law prohibits counties from beginning to process mail-in ballots before 7 a.m. on Election Day, and because these ballots must be manually removed from their envelopes and verified as valid before they can be fed into tabulating machines, a final count likely won’t be completed on Nov. 3.

The U. S. Supreme Court ruled last Monday that Pennsylvania, for now, can count mail-in ballots received up to three days after Nov. 3, rejecting a Republican-led lawsuit. The justices upheld a state Supreme Court ruling that required county election officials to receive and count mail-in ballots that arrive by 5 p.m. on Nov. 6, even if they don’t have a clear postmark, as long as there is no proof a voter mailed their ballot after the polls closed. Three justices hinted that the court may return to the case after the election, which could lead to some ballots being thrown out.

Pennsylvania is one of the most important swing states in the country, with FiveThirtyEight’s presidential race forecast giving President Donald Trump an 84% chance of winning the presidency if he carries the state, and Biden a 96% chance of winning if the state flips blue. With poll averages showing Biden leading Trump by about 5% in Pennsylvania, the race for the state’s electoral votes is likely to be tight.

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