New normal? Pennsylvania waits for election results

Confusion caused by pandemic and unrest leaves key races uncalled

Republicans are targeting Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb in November.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Republicans are targeting Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 3, 2020 at 7:14am

The tallies from many of the precincts are in, but the primary is not over in two Pennsylvania House races, one in each party, that are expected to be competitive in a state that is also a crucial battleground in the presidential campaign.

The delays are the result of the surge in ballots sent by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic, and emergency rules in several counties providing more time for ballots to arrive in the mail because of disruptions and curfews tied to protests over police violence.

Suzanne Almeida, interim director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, told reporters Tuesday afternoon that there was widespread voter confusion, with polling places consolidated because of the pandemic.

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“What we’re seeing is voters who are showing up to their old precincts unable to cast ballots there and calling the hotline… to get directions to where they should vote,” Almeida said.

She also worried that some voters who would have gone out Tuesday stayed home, saying that having the National Guard patrolling the streets could have had a chilling effect.

In the 1st District, Democrat Christina Finello, an Ivyland borough councilwoman, was declared the nominee by The Associated Press at 1:34 a.m. She'll face GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, whose race was called at 10:16 a.m. Wednesday when 99 percent of precincts were in. Fitzpatrick beat challenger Andy Meehan, who ran as an “unabashed supporter of President Trump,” 57 percent to 43 percent.

In the 7th District, Democratic Rep. Susan Wild was unopposed. But the Republican primary was not called until 12:40 p.m. on Tuesday, when former Lehigh County Commissioner Lisa Scheller was declared the winner over Dean Browning, 52 percent to 48 percent.

In the 8th District, Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright was unopposed, but there was a tight battle in the GOP. Again the tallies said 100 percent of precincts were in but no winner was declared, with political consultant Jim Bognet at 28 percent, Army veteran Teddy Daniels at 27 percent, and Earl Granville — an Army National Guard veteran who lost a leg serving in Afghanistan and was endorsed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — at 21 percent.

In the 10th District, Republican Rep. Scott Perry is one of the 10 most vulnerable House members. He had no primary challenger, but the Democrat leading in the race to challenge him, state Auditor Eugene DePasquale, issued a statement a 1 a.m. saying there were thousands of ballots left to be counted. At 3 a.m., AP's tally had DePasquale with 63 percent and Tom Brier at 37 percent.

In two key races, it is clear that GOP Rep. Mike Kelly will face teacher Kristy Gnibus in the 16th District and Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb will face will face Army veteran Sean Parnell in the 17th District. But that's because those candidates had no primary challengers.

Pennsylvania's state Democratic chairwoman, Nancy Patton Mills, issued a statement Tuesday night saying people are going to have to be patient.

“We’re accustomed to knowing more results from around the commonwealth on primary night, but since this is the first time we have vote-by-mail on this scale, it's important to remember that an accurate count is far more important than a quick count,” she said.

An advisory earlier Tuesday from the AP, which most news organizations rely on to gather tallies from around the country was telling.

“Because of the large number of absentee and postal ballots being cast in this election and because of the extension of the deadline for receipt of absentee and postal ballots, tabulation will continue into next week,” the advisory said.

Jessica Wehrman contributed to this report.