Will Pennsylvania Be the Florida of the 2020 Election?
Imagine this scenario: incumbent President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are running neck and neck as results roll in on election night. Trump is once again losing the popular vote but winning enough states to give him a shot at a second term—and, as the night wears on, it becomes apparent that Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes may prove decisive.
The race is so close—in 2016, Trump won Pennsylvania by less than 50,000 votes—that pundits are already raising the prospect of a recount, but there are numerous complications. Hundreds of thousands of mailed-in ballots that arrived at county election offices in the weeks before Election Day are only starting to be counted. More mail-in ballots will be delivered on Wednesday. And Thursday. And Friday. They will all be counted. Conservative media makes hay out of reports that Democratic state officials have ordered counties not to reject mail-in ballots that have mismatched signatures. As the days pass and the results tip toward Biden, allegations of voter fraud fly around social media, the president tweets angrily about Democrats stealing the election, and lawsuits are filed. It seems almost certain that the whole thing will end up before the Supreme Court.
There is no shortage of nightmare scenarios surrounding the 2020 presidential election. For the most part, however, there is little reason to get worked up about crises that may come to pass—that goes for both Republicans who fear mass voter fraud and Democrats worried by the possibility that Trump will refuse to leave the White House if he is defeated. Neither the Postal Service nor Russian agents are likely going to steal this election.
But if there is a nightmarish, chaotic ending to what’s already been one of the most unpredictable campaign seasons in American history, there’s a good chance Pennsylvania will be at the center of it. And there’s a good chance that two under-the-radar decisions made earlier this month by the state’s election officials and its Supreme Court will be the reason why.
On September 15, the Pennsylvania Department of State issued new guidance telling counties not to reject mailed-in ballots solely because of mismatched or missing signatures. That clarification was made in response to a lawsuit that was triggered by the fact that more than 26,000 mail-in ballots were rejected during Pennsylvania’s primary election for signature issues. Now, counties will flag those ballots and g
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