Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

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An unforeseen error with the speedy machines purchased to help during the 2020 presidential election slowed down Philly’s mail ballot counting process on Tuesday, according to the Office of City Commissioners

By state law, election officials can’t start opening envelopes and counting votes until the polls open.

Philly officials planned to post results from about 39,000 primary election ballots at shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m., spokesperson Nick Custodio said. But the actual first batch of numbers included results from just over 10,000.

“It’s not a major hiccup, its just something that’s unfortunately slowed the process down,” Custodio told WHYY News.

The issue arose early during the day. Because the folded ballots were slightly larger this year than last, the machines that slice open the tops of the envelopes were also cutting directly into them. “We didn’t want to damage too many ballots so we stopped using the extractors,” Custodio said.

Instead, the vote-counting center at 11311 Roosevelt Blvd. switched methods, and began using an older type of extractor called a grinder. Instead of a knife slicing through the envelopes, it “grinds” off the top. About 30 workers were also opening envelopes by hand.

A livestream of the operation was posted on the City Commissioners’ website.

?️ More election info:

Volume won’t be anything like the onslaught that flooded in this past November, when nearly 375,000 Philadelphians voted by mail. But the city sent out 85,000 of the paper ballots for the May primary.

In May of 2017, the last time Philadelphia chose between candidates for DA, about 150,000 people cast votes. That was considered a lot, about 50% higher than other recent DA primaries.

Though Philadelphia turnout started slow this year, things picked up significantly during the latter half of the day.

Delays in primary results are also expected in other counties around Pennsylvania. More than 800,000 ballots were sent out across the commonwealth, state officials said. Statewide results are posted online at

Danya Henninger was first editor and then editor/director of Billy Penn at WHYY from 2019 to 2023.