Historic turnout and a surge in voting by mail have left the U.S. presidential election in limbo, with an embarrassing printing snafu leading to thousands of ballots being transferred to clean ballots by hand.
The Midwestern states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were all still up in the air as the sun rose on Wednesday, with officials caught flat-footed by the millions of absentee ballots that poured in this year.
In all three states, officials were not allowed to begin counting ballots until on or just before election day. Republican-led state legislatures in the states had opposed changing laws to allow earlier preparations as other states did.
Pennsylvania, which may well be the deciding state in the election, will continue to accept ballots postmarked by Tuesday if they are received by 5pm on Friday.
Mail-in ballots are processed, flattened and scanned by poll workers in the Philadelphia Convention Center in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania will continue to accept ballots postmarked by Tuesday if they are received by 5pm on Friday
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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, said at 3am Wednesday that the state had more than 1 million ballots left to tally. President Donald Trump leads the state by nearly 11 points with 74 percent of expected votes counted, but the likely tilt of mail-in ballots toward Joe Biden made declaring a winner impossible.
Absentee ballots can be time-consuming to process, with most states verifying the signature on the interior envelope against voter roles before the ballot can be scanned.
But technical snags and snafus in several jurisdictions slowed the process further.
In Outagamie County, Wisconsin, which is outside Green Bay, poll workers on Tuesday were working to transfer votes from around 13,500 misprinted absentee ballots to clean ballots that won’t jam the electronic tabulating machine, the county clerk told CNN.
Poll workers sort out early and absentee ballots in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Officials say about 1.9 million people in Wisconsin returned an absentee ballot
The votes had to be transferred to the clean ballots by hand in order to be fed through the tabulating machine.
In Green Bay, absentee ballot results were delayed after one of the vote-counting machines ran out of ink.
According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, about 1.9 million people in Wisconsin returned an absentee ballot as of Monday morning. That’s more than double the number of absentee ballots cast in 2016.
In Michigan, election officials said more than 3.1 absentee ballots have been returned.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson predicted to reporters Tuesday evening that the state could ‘potentially see a full result of every tabulation out of Michigan in the next 24 hours.’
She had previously suggested that counting could take until Friday.
Workers in Detroit, Michigan process absentee ballots early Wednesday. In Michigan, election officials said more than 3.1 absentee ballots have been returned
Other key states, including Georgia and North Carolina, could still not be declared by Wednesday morning.
In Georgia, a burst pipe caused delays in counting up to 60,000 absentee ballots in Fulton County, which includes part of Atlanta and leans Democrat.
The incident happened in a room at State Farm Arena where Fulton County absentee ballots were being counted, registration chief Ralph Jones told the county elections board during a video meeting Tuesday evening.
That caused processing to stop for several hours, but no ballots or equipment were damaged, county officials said. Ballot counters were sent home at 10:30pm and set to return 8:30am Wednesday.
In North Carolina, a record 4.5 million absentee ballots were cast ahead of Election Day.
Even with 95 percent of the vote counted in North Carolina, the state remained too close to call early Wednesday, with Trump maintaining a slim lead of 50.1 percent to 48.7 percent.