Pennsylvania sees fewer mail ballots rejected for technicalities, a priority for election officials

  • Canadian Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania election officials said Wednesday that the number of mail−in ballots rejected for technicalities, like a missing date, saw a significant drop in last month’s primary election after state officials tried anew to help voters avoid mistakes that might get their ballots thrown out.

The success of the mail−in vote could be critical to determining the outcome of November’s presidential election in Pennsylvania when the state is again expected to play a decisive role in the contest between Democratic President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, a Republican.

Pennsylvania’s top election official, Secretary of State Al Schmidt, said counties reported a 13.5% decrease in mail−in ballots that were rejected for reasons the state had tried to address with a redesigned ballot envelope and instructions for voting by mail. That drop was calculated in comparison to the 2023 primary election.

Those reasons included voters writing an incorrect date on the outer “declaration” envelope; forgetting to write a date or put their signature on the outer declaration envelope; or failing to insert their ballot into an inner “secrecy” envelope.

Schmidt credited the redesign with the reduced error rate, and said he didn’t think the drop was a coincidence or the result of a different or better−educated electorate.

“It’s always challenging to determine causality, but I think what we have here is clear and reliable data indicating that there was a decrease in ballots being rejected because of the issues the Department of State sought to address with the redesign of the secrecy envelope and the declaration envelope,” Schmidt said in an interview.

Last month’s primary election was the first use of the redesigned envelope and instructions. The Department of State compared rejection rates to 2023’s primary because the two elections were the only elections where counties had identical rules for which mail−in ballots should be counted and which should be rejected.

Pennsylvania vastly expanded voting by mail in 2019, and lawsuits quickly followed over whether counties should be throwing out ballots with missing or incorrect dates, questionable signatures or missing secrecy envelopes.

Federal courts are still considering litigation over whether it is unconstitutional for counties to throw out a mail−in ballot because of a missing or wrong date.

Meanwhile, Trump’s baseless claims that voting by mail is riddled with fraud have fueled a partisan stalemate in the Legislature over fixing glitches and gray areas in Pennsylvania’s mail−in voting law.

That includes legislation long sought by counties seeking help to more quickly process huge influxes of mail−in ballots during presidential elections and to avoid a repeat of 2020’s drawn−out vote count.

Trump and his allies tried to exploit the days it took after polls closed in Pennsylvania to tabulate more than 2.5 million mail−in ballots to spread baseless conspiracy theories and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election.

The bill faces long odds in the Republican−controlled Senate, where top Republicans insist that Pennsylvania must toughen in−person voter identification requirements as a companion to any election legislation — a demand Republicans have made since 2021.

Democrats have opposed such a change, saying there is scant record of in−person voting fraud and that it will only prevent some registered voters from voting.


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Marc Levy, The Associated Press

Photo: AP