MERCER – As the nation waits for Pennsylvania's presidential election verdict, Mercer County's elections department was busy Wednesday counting almost 15,000 mail-in ballots.
"We've done quite a few precincts, but we're doing all the small ones now," said Thad Hall, county elections director, early Wednesday afternoon.
The process involved nine two-member teams near the elections office in the Mercer County courthouse methodically went through the 14,844 mail-in votes cast before the polls closed Tuesday at 8 p.m.
"That's all we can do with social distancing," Hall said. "There's people in the halls. They're being very diligent."
The teams had counted 600 ballots by 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Under state election law that went into effect for the June primary, Pennsylvania voters were able to vote by mail without certifying that they would otherwise be unable to cast ballots on Election Day. However, county election bureaus were prohibited from opening the envelopes until Election Day.
Mercer County is among at least seven Pennsylvania counties that did not begin processing mail-in votes until Wednesday.
Hall said those on the county's vote-counting teams, all of whom worked late on election night, will carry out the count through 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, and will return to resume counting today.
He said the county should be very close to finishing its count by the end of today.
Before the votes are counted, each ballot has to be removed, first from the outside envelope that has the voter's name and address, and then from the security envelope, which should have no identifying markings.
"The rules are very clear cut," Hall said. "If the ballot is not signed, it is set aside. If it is not in its official ballot envelope, it is also pulled aside," Hall said.
Hall said only a couple of ballots had been set aside as of 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
With the presidential election results still undetermined Wednesday, Pennsylvania's still-to-be-counted ballots became a contentious point. NBC News reported Wednesday that President Donald J. Trump's campaign representatives asked three Pennsylvania counties, including Mercer, for specific details about the storage and transportation of ballots.
Pennsylvania Department of State, which sets policies for elections run by county offices, has directed county officials not to answer any questions from either campaign.
Hall said the issue was moot because Mercer County's office doesn't answer questions about its processes.
"We would never divulge anything about the process we use to keep everything secure," he said. "Just like you don't publish the blueprints to a safe."
"We won't be answering any of that, at least until after the election," Hall said.
Hall he said that no candidate or party has contested the ballots.
"That's not allowed," Hall said. "If they wanted to do that, they had to be here before Friday at 1 p.m.," Hall said.
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