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States Continue To Count Votes After Election Day

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We have moved past the voting stage of the election and into the counting phase, a phase that is testing the patience of the whole nation. Election officials are adamant that accuracy is their priority, not speed. But many of those officials in swing states have been hamstrung by state laws that slow down the process. Joining us now is Miles Parks, who covers voting for NPR.

Hey there, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey there.

CORNISH: And Jeff Brady, our reporter on the ground in Philadelphia, where thousands of votes remain to be counted.

Welcome back, Jeff.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: Miles, I'm going to start with you. There's been a lot of news today in terms of lawsuits, allegations from the Trump campaign about fraud. There's no evidence of that. What are you watching around the country as votes are still being tallied?

PARKS: Right. Lawsuits have dominated the day, but it's really not clear at this point which of these lawsuits will actually lead to any meaningful developments. You know, one election law expert put it to me recently. Sometimes election law lawsuits are just press releases with filing fees. And in that vein, the Trump campaign is really driving at this idea that votes are being improperly counted or that there's some sort of cheating going on, even though there's no evidence of that at this point.

The campaign has filed suit in Michigan and in Pennsylvania, two swing states, to try and temporarily stop vote counting. And they're asking again for the U.S. Supreme Court to look at whether Pennsylvania should still accept ballots that were postmarked by Election Day but that arrive a couple days later, later this week. It's worth noting that similar suits around the vote counting process that the campaign has filed earlier in this race have failed so far.

CORNISH: I want to stay with Pennsylvania for a moment, Jeff, because you're in Philadelphia, obviously an important city in this pivotal state. What are you seeing?

BRADY: Well, at the convention center, where the city has set up this $5 million mail-in vote counting factory, election workers are processing and counting ballots around the clock at peak capacity. They can finish about 10,000 ballots an hour, but they have to stop for things like shift changes and then cleaning between shifts. By this evening, they have counted more than 233,000 mail ballots. There could be up to 400,000 of those in Philadelphia. Officials won't predict when they'll finish counting. City Commissioner Lisa Deeley said today that they'll be done as soon as they're done. Their priority is to count every vote, do it accurately, and they say speed is further down the priority list.

CORNISH: And what about those counties in the state that are still counting mail-in ballots? What kind of progress are they making?

BRADY: By this afternoon, nearly 60% of the mail-in ballots across the commonwealth had been counted. Governor Tom Wolf has been telling Pennsylvanians over the past week to be patient. He says election officials knew the counting process would be slow for the state's first general election with the new vote-by-mail system. But Wolf says there's a bigger issue here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM WOLF: Make no mistake. Our democracy is being tested in this election. This is a stress test of the ideals upon which this country was founded. And the basic rule of one person, one vote - that still carries, and it has to carry here.

BRADY: Wolf says he's prepared to defend that principle from outside attacks. He didn't mention President Trump when he said that, but Trump certainly has spent a lot of time questioning the integrity of elections here, especially in Philadelphia. And what's key here is that a lot of these mail-in ballots are coming from Democrats, which helped boost Joe Biden's votes for the state. Democrats embraced vote by mail amid the coronavirus pandemic much more than Republicans by a nearly 3-to-1 margin.

CORNISH: Miles, taking a step back, there's been so much reporting from NPR and other places about how the vote would be affected - right? - how it would take some time. So is it all that surprising that we don't have an answer yet?

PARKS: Right, not at all. I mean, it would be more surprising if we had gotten a good idea, even by this morning or this afternoon, of who the president was going to be. Election officials in these swing states - Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - have not been able to start working through their absentee ballots until yesterday on Election Day because of state laws.

And it's worth noting that it was Republican legislatures in those states. They could've adjusted those laws, as many states - you know, dozens have, to accommodate the influx of mail voting. Election officials in those states begged them to, but lawmakers declined to do so. And so here we are, still counting those mail ballots. And experts are quick to point out that that is not necessarily a problem. It's not a sign that anything's wrong.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, the president has been talking about the courts - right? - and challenging the rules in some of these states. How likely is that that courts would play a defining role in how this turns out?

PARKS: I'd say it's really early at this point to speculate on how much of a role the courts will play because there's just so many votes still left to count. Legal experts say lawsuits and, to a certain extent, recounts fall into this category. They really play the biggest role on the margins, when races are decided by a few hundred or just a few thousand votes. If these swing states end up, you know, in those close, close, razor-thin margins, then the litigation could come into play. But if the margins are bigger, then it's doubtful that any post-election lawsuits could actually change the results.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Miles Parks and Jeff Brady.

Thank you to you both.

PARKS: Thank you.

BRADY: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.