The Philadelphia Convention Center will start working to process hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots Tuesday at 7 a.m.
The pressure to work fast and efficiently is strong after Republicans in control of the state legislature did not allow counties to begin processing mail-in ballots before the election.
The counting process is complex when considering the legal challenges and the large volume of mail ballots. According to the state’s top election official, the ballot count is expected to continue until Friday.
The number of people voting by mail has increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pennsylvanians requested more than three million absentee ballots for the general election, and returned more than two million as of Friday. In Philadelphia, officials are estimating they could have to process more than 350,000 returned absentee ballots from the over 425,000 requested by voters.
Mail-in ballots avalanche
Beginning at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, officials will begin processing the mail-in ballots, organized by precinct, and scanning them for signatures. Signed ballots will go through extraction machines, which have suction cups to open envelopes that allow staff to remove ballots in the inner secrecy envelopes.
Ballots without secrecy envelopes, known as naked ballots, will be discarded, in accordance with a September state Supreme Court ruling. But poll workers can reach out to voters and offer them provisional ballots to fill out at a polling site in-person.
Once removed from the secrecy envelopes and verified, mail-in ballots are unfolded by staff. Then they are prepared for processing by the city’s 12 high-speed scanners, which can process 32,000 ballots every hour.
“It’s very hard to be fast enough for people’s expectations,” Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa Deeley, told ABC News. “This is going to be new for all of us. We’re going to be doing the best we can to get it done as quickly as possible, but without sacrificing accuracy.”
The city intends to post the results of the absentee and mail-in ballots scanned on Election Day after polls close on Tuesday night and the last voting machine results are received, Deeley said.
Updated counts will be posted four times on Nov. 4, and at least twice a day the rest of the week until every vote is counted.
“I feel confident that the overwhelming majority will be counted by Friday, if not before,” Kathy Boockvar, the Pennsylvania secretary of the commonwealth, told reporters on Friday.
In an earlier appearance on ABC’s GMA 3, Boockvar said the state’s largest counties will count ballots “24/7” to finish the process “as quickly as humanly possible.”
At least seven counties are opting not to begin the process of counting mail-in ballots, known as pre-canvassing, on the morning of Election Day, despite Boockvar’s encouragements, and will start on Nov. 4.
“We have fewer than 5,000 to process,” Mike Belding, chairman of the Greene County Commissioners, told ABC News in an email. “Our decision is based on county staff and availability of people to work both the polls and start ballot processing.”
“We have purchased an envelope opener and a high-speed scanner to aid in this process,” he continued. “We are focused on procedures, accountability and integrity of the vote.”