In 2016, Pennsylvania went for Donald Trump by the incredibly slim margin of 0.7 percent. It was the first time Pennsylvania had voted in a Republican for president since 1988, and it means that the state now finds itself at the center of the 2020 presidential election.
So is the way it will count its votes, particularly in Democratic stronghold Philadelphia. As a result, Philadelphia has become one of a number of districts offering the world an unusual opportunity this year: We can watch the votes get counted in real time, on a livestream.
The livestream, run by the Philadelphia City Commissioners, is an almost flamboyant exercise in election transparency. It shows masked and socially distanced workers rapidly sorting and opening envelopes, then feeding them into machines to be counted, all in plain view of the cameras. It feels pointed, because it probably is.
The election livestream comes a week after President Trump ramped up his false claims that voter fraud will run rampant in Philadelphia. That’s because last Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that it would not yet decide to reverse a Pennsylvania Supreme Court order allowing mail-in ballots to be counted if they arrive after polls close Tuesday, as long as they were postmarked before Election Day.
Trump appears to have calculated that because Democrats are more likely to mail in their ballots than Republicans are, the more mail-in ballots that are disqualified, the better for him. He also appears to have decided that urban and overwhelmingly Democratic Philadelphia could pose a major threat to his chances of taking Pennsylvania.
So his campaign has targeted Philadelphia for a while. The Trump campaign sued the city in October, asking for permission to have campaign officials observe voters registering or filling out mail-in ballots. (The suit was unsuccessful.) The campaign also surveilled voters dropping off mail-in ballots and filed complaints with city officials any time it observed voters dropping off more than one ballot, a move the Pennsylvania secretary of state suggested might qualify as voter intimidation.
The Trump administration has repeatedly claimed that its only agenda is to crack down on voter fraud in Philadelphia. But studies show that voter fraud is extremely rare, and there’s no evidence suggesting it happens more in Philadelphia than anywhere else.
In the wake of last Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision allowing mail-in ballots to be counted for up to three days after the election, Trump has repeatedly claimed that “bad things” will happen in Philadelphia, and asked his supporters to watch what happens there.
“Governor, please don’t cheat, because we’re all watching,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Avoca, Pennsylvania, on Monday afternoon. “We’re all watching you, Governor. We have a lot of eyes on the governor and his friends.”
“Pennsylvanians will not be intimidated,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf responded on Twitter. “You can watch us count every vote and have a fair election.”
Wolf’s word appears to have been good: You can watch Pennsylvania count every vote. Or, at least, you can watch Philadelphia do it.