With High Number of Mail-In Ballots, Vote Count Continues in Centre County
In-person voter turnout was low in Centre County, as it was through much of Pennsylvania, for Tuesday's primary election, but the counting of votes is still expected to take a few more days.
That is because nearly 6,000 more voters in the county opted for mail-in ballots than than those who decided to cast their vote in person.
According to unofficial results from the county elections office, 13,487 voters went to the polls to choose Democratic or Republican nominees for November's general election. Centre County, however, received 19,114 mail-in ballots out of 22,070 sent by request to eligible voters.
It was the first Pennsylvania election in which any eligible voter could opt for a mail-in ballot without an excuse, made possible by bipartisan legislation signed into law last fall. State officials anticipated voters would gradually adopt mail-in voting, with an expected 15 to 20 percent increase in the first year.
In the wake of public health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, requests for mail-in ballots spiked. Across Pennsylvania, more than 1.8 million voters requested a mail-in ballot.
Voters had until 8 p.m. Tuesday to return completed ballots to the county elections office. Election officials were allowed to begin counting mail-in ballots on Tuesday morning, but were not permitted to report any results until after polls closed.
Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe said on Wednesday that about 6,000 of the mail-in ballots have been processed, noting that it takes about a half-hour to process a batch of 100 ballots.
"We're taking care to make sure every vote is counted," Pipe said.
He expects the tabulation of mail-in ballots to be completed on Friday.
The primary was widely viewed statewide as a dry run with the new mail-in option for the Nov. 3 general election, when the eyes of the nation will be on swing states like Pennsylvania for presidential election results.
Pipe said the primary was a valuable experience and the county knows how it will be "scaling up" for the general election. He expects unofficial results from the Nov. 3 vote will be available around 1-2 a.m. on Nov. 4.
For the primary, in-person voter turnout represented only about 15 percent of Centre County's 89,121 registered Republicans and Democrats. More than twice as many Republicans (9,002) went to the polls in person than Democrats (4,485). Statewide, however, more than twice as many Democrats requested mail-in ballots than Republicans.
Centre County has 46,278 registered Democrats and 42,843 registered Republicans
There was little suspense surrounding most of the races appearing on local ballots.
To no one's surprise, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden were declared winners of the Republican and Democratic nominations for president in Pennsylvania almost immediately after polls closed on Tuesday night.
Among in-person ballots in Centre County on the Democratic side, Biden won 60.5 percent of the vote, Bernie Sanders took 28.8 percent and Tulsi Gabbard 4.94 percent
For Republicans, Trump won 93.44 percent of the vote and Bill Weld had 3.69 percent.
Biden had 77 percent of the Democratic vote statewide and Trump 94.5 percent of the Republican vote as of Wednesday morning.
One race that remains in question is Democratic nominee for state auditor general. Rush Township's Scott Conklin — who was also unopposed on the Democratic ballot for reelection as state representative for the 77th district— was in fourth place statewide as of Wednesday morning. With about 9 percent of the vote, he trailed Michael Lamb (36 percent), Nina Ahmad (28 percent) and Christina Hartman (11.9 percent). Conklin is followed by Tracie Fountain (8.1 percent) and Rose Marie Davis (6.7 percent).
As expected, Conklin did well in his home county, winning 77 percent of in-person Democratic votes for auditor general.
Michael DeFoor was unopposed on the Republican ballot for auditor general.
Other uncontested races included:
Democrat: Josh Shapiro (incumbent)
Republican: Heather Heidelbaugh
Democrat: Joseph Torsella (incumbent)
Republican: Stacy Garrity
12th Congressional District
Democrat: Lee Griffin
Republican: Fred Keller (incumbent)
15th Congressional District
Democrat: Robert Williams
Republican: Glenn Thompson (incumbent)
State Representative 76th District
Democrat: Joseph Waltz
Republican: Stephanie Borowicz (incumbent)
State Representative 77th District
Democrat: Scott Conklin (incumbent)
Republican: Stephen Yetsko
State Representative 81st District
Democrat: Ian Kidd
Republican: Richard Irvin (incumbent)
State Representative 171st District
Democrat: Peter Buck
Republican: Kerry Benninghoff (incumbent)