There they were, a battery of temporary workers in road-safety vests of hazmat yellow with orange and gray stripes, sipping soda and slurping coffee, working under blue signs that read “Scanners,” “Sorters,” “Envelope Review,” “Adjudication,” “Flattening” and “Extractors,” which are fancy doohickies that look like copy machines and pull ballots from envelopes at a rate of 12,000 an hour. White cardboard boxes of ballots were stacked up on the concrete floor.
The Philadelphia City Commission, in charge of elections, is making the system so transparent that it’s live-streaming the drama.
Early Wednesday afternoon, as officials worked round-the-clock, many of them earning $18 an hour, there was so very, very little happening in Hall F that an official, with a massive “Dragnet”-like elections badge hanging from her neck, felt the need to apologize for the lack of visual drama.
But outside, there was plenty.
President Trump’s early lead, the projected “red mirage,” was narrowing. Joe Biden’s “blue shift” was growing, with fewer than 267,000 votes separating them. More than a million ballots, 41 percent of votes cast, had yet to be counted.
This is the first year that Pennsylvanians can vote by mail with no excuses, a measure that was passed by a Republican legislative majority on Halloween 2019.
The mail-in ballots have caused no end of confusion, including hand-wringing about “naked ballots” that don’t have the required Harry Potteresque “secrecy envelope,” plus widespread fear that whatever could go wrong will go wrong and that Pennsylvania would be this year’s version of Florida in 2000.
“This is pretty much a run-of-the-mill election, if run-of-the-mill is everything but the kitchen sink being thrown at you,” City Commission Chairwoman Lisa Deeley said Wednesday, operating on a solid 48 minutes of sleep.
Tuesday, she was here to tell you, was an utter bore. The only hiccups were the few election workers who showed up late or forgot the key to the polling place. And the city has received about 3,000 naked ballots, far fewer than had been expected.
Yes, it’s pretty run-of-the-mill, except, at that very moment, the presidency might have been riding on Pennsylvania — possibly on Philadelphia County, its most populous, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 6-to-1 — and the Trump campaign was filing lawsuits, including one to stop counting ballots received after Election Day.
It is going to take several days for Pennsylvania’s votes to be counted, especially Philadelphia’s 372,486 mail-in ballots, as of Wednesday afternoon and growing. The commonwealth is allowed to count ballots received through Friday provided they were postmarked by Nov. 3.
But America is not big on patience. Nor is President Trump, who has been trashing Philadelphia and casting aspersions on its voting process on almost a daily basis.
Wednesday afternoon, Deeley reported that 232,486 mail-in votes had been counted. Tuesday’s in-person votes of 347,000 were already tabulated.
See, dull as democracy.
At around the same time, competing protesters showed up at the convention center, in anticipation of a news conference from Trump’s inner circle. That event was scrapped but materialized later just outside the airport. It was the Trump version of “The Avengers,” with Eric and Lara Trump, former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, adviser Corey Lewandowski and special guest Rudy Giuliani, fresh off his shirt-tucking star turn in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” slinging rhetorical mud on the process, while broadcast on Fox News.
“Do you think we’re stupid? Do you think we’re fools?” asked Giuliani. He wanted people to know, without citing evidence, that Philadelphia’s votes could have come from Mars or Camden or dead people. He declared that the president had won Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes even though he noted that only 87 percent of the vote had been counted.
He cited “the crooked Democratic machine,” which has been in decline for years.
Giuliani also labeled Philadelphia Democrats “elite,” which may be a historic first and fighting words in this town that prides itself on its grit.
Bondi declared that Republican observers were being kept yards from machines and not being allowed to get close to the ballots, the subject of another lawsuit.
During a tour of the facilities, Republican and Democratic observers were being kept equally distant from the machines, about 30 feet away, The Post observed. So was everyone else not employed to tally votes.
So, yes, the election in Pennsylvania was as run-of-the-mill as things get in 202o.
Inside Hall F, election workers continued to extract, flatten, sort and scan mail-in ballots 24 hours a day while the City Commission’s live stream captured the absolute glory of it all.
This story has been updated.