Updated at 10:30 a.m. ET on November 10.
Why did Pennsylvania take four days to count its votes and deliver the presidency to Joe Biden?
The pandemic is partly to blame, but the roots of the delay go back a full decade, to a Democratic electoral wipeout that gave Republicans power not only in Congress but in state capitols across the country. In Pennsylvania, Republicans in 2010 captured the governor’s office and swept Democrats out of their majority in the state House to gain full control of state government.* And because the lawmakers elected in that year’s red wave held the pens that redrew the state’s legislative map following the decennial census, the GOP was able to lay out district lines to its advantage and lock in its power for election after election; Republicans maintained control of Pennsylvania’s legislature even as Barack Obama claimed the commonwealth’s electoral votes in 2012, and again when Democrat Tom Wolf won its governorship two years later. The state supreme court threw out Pennsylvania’s GOP-drawn congressional map in 2018, but the state legislative lines survived, and so, that year, did the Republican majorities.
So when COVID-19 hit earlier this year and millions of Pennsylvania voters applied for mail-in ballots for the first time, a crucial decision fell into the laps of those Republican state legislators: Would they agree to change the law and allow election officials to begin processing the more than 2.6 million absentee ballots—some 40 percent of the total votes cast in Pennsylvania— ahead of time, instead of starting on the morning of November 3? They could have followed the example of Republican-led Florida, which permitted election officials to begin counting mailed-in ballots starting in September and delivered conclusive results within a few hours of the polls closing on Election Day.