Report: Half of Pennsylvania Vote-by-Mail Ballots Cast Before Fetterman’s Disastrous Debate

Nearly half of all vote-by-mail ballots in Pennsylvania had already been cast before Tuesday night’s U.S. Senate debate, which was judged a disaster — even by Democrats — after Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), recovering from a stroke, struggled to form coherent sentences.

Fetterman had sought to avoid a debate, and his campaign has restricted his public appearances.. When he finally agreed to one, Democrats sought to delay the debate until ballots were already being cast by mail, since Democrats are more likely to use that method and more of the party’s vote would already be cast.

However, given that 82% of viewers said that Republican nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz won the debate, it is likely that some of those Democratic would make a different choice today.

The Wall Street Journal noted in an editorial Tuesday that the result of the debate might not matter, given timing and vote-by-mail:

Voters in Pennsylvania Tuesday night finally got a debate between their Senate candidates, Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz. Mr. Fetterman is still recovering from a stroke, and he relied on closed captions to understand the debate questions. Voters can decide if he allayed concerns about his health.

Remarkably, though, almost half of the mail ballots requested in Pennsylvania have already been cast and returned, according to the U.S. Elections Project. As of Tuesday, two weeks before what used to be quaintly called Election Day, officials had received 635,428 mail votes out of the 1,310,189 that voters originally requested. That’s 48%. Given the delay between a voter’s mailbox and the local elections office, the true figure is certainly higher.

Most people continue to vote on Election Day, but the data there aren’t exactly comforting. About five million people voted in Pennsylvania’s 2018 Senate race. Assuming this year’s final turnout ends up being similar, then roughly 10% of the vote could be already cast for Mr. Fetterman or Mr. Oz, before the public even has a chance to see them mix it up on TV.

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Similar concerns have arisen in other states, where the first debates are being held after the start of early voting and vote-by mail.