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Changes Coming to Pennsylvania Mail Ballot Envelopes

Revised 2024 PA Mail Ballot Envelope

Sam Cooke once sang, “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

Of course, the late crooner had no idea that 60 years later, his tune could be applied to mail election ballot envelopes in the Keystone State.

The Pennsylvania Department of State announced on Wednesday that it is refining its mail ballot materials in time for the 2024 primary election.

Governor (Josh) Shapiro has made it clear that the Commonwealth should help people succeed, not get in their way,” said Secretary of State Al Schmidt. ”In each election cycle since 2020, when no-excuse mail-in voting was implemented in Pennsylvania, we have seen thousands of mail ballots not be counted because of unintended technical errors voters made when completing their ballot.

“The Shapiro Administration is committed to giving every eligible Pennsylvanian the opportunity to cast their vote and make their voice heard. Our hope is that these new materials will better assist voters in making sure their completed mail ballot packet is filled out correctly and can be counted.”

The redesigned envelopes and instruction sheets have revised language to better inform voters how to properly fill out and return their mail-in ballots, with the goal of decreasing voter confusion that can lead to completed ballots being rejected and assisting county election workers in efficiently processing mail-in ballots.

Instructions

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The Department of State is prescribing more uniformity in county mail ballot materials to aid both voters and election officials. Voters can expect to see mail-in ballots that incorporate the following requirements, based on counties current best practices:

2022-2023 Outer Envelope

Mail Ballot Declaration

2024 Outer Envelope

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  • New, more easily identifiable secrecy envelopes on a yellow background, with watermarking to discourage stray marks.
  • Coloring to make it easier for voters to distinguish the inner and outer envelopes.
  • Standardized full-page instructions with helpful graphics to depict the order of envelope placement.
  • A pre-filled “20” at the beginning of the year on the outer envelope to alert voters to write the current date, not their birthdate, in that field.
  • Coloring on the return envelope to highlight fields the voter must complete in the voter declaration including signature and date.
  • Colorized outer return envelopes to help post office employees expediently identify and deliver ballots mailed close to Election Day.
  • Uniform blue ink on outgoing mail ballots.

 

In the 2023 primary, counties rejected about 17,000 mail ballots, which is about 2.8 percent of the 597,000 mail-in and absentee ballots cast. Approximately 21,800 mail ballots were rejected in the 2020 general election, and approximately 23,700 mail ballots were rejected in the 2022 general election. Data on rejected ballots from recent elections demonstrate the critical need for these revisions.

The most common reasons for mail ballot rejection in the 2023 primary were receipt after Election Day (46.8% of all rejected ballots), lack of a date (20.3%), lack of a secrecy envelope (14.9%), incorrect date (8.4%), and lack of a signature (4.7%). The newly revised materials address these problems by providing clearer instructions on how to fill out and submit a mail ballot, which will decrease voter confusion and ensure fewer mail ballots are rejected in each election.

While the percentage and actual number may appear inconsequential, recent statewide and local elections have come down to small margins, including the 2022 GOP U.S. Senate primary that saw Mehmet Oz edge Dave McCormick by 900 votes. And the Towamencin Township supervisors race is still deadlocked because of how Montgomery County chose to count misdated ballots in the November election.

“Voting by mail is a safe, secure, and accessible way for Pennsylvanians to participate in the election process. We have worked with counties, vendors, and the Center for Civic Design to develop these new mail ballot materials to improve voters’ compliance with the instructions so their vote can be counted,” Schmidt said.

According to guidance provided by the Department of State, “any county that believes they are unable to comply with the prescriptions of this Directive may seek permission from the Department for a prescribed variance. A variance will only be granted where the county demonstrates that compliance with this Directive will prove a substantial hardship, and that a variance will allow the county to avoid this hardship while continuing to provide mail ballot materials that are clear and convenient for voters, and that are as close as possible to the uniform materials prescribed herein.

A county seeking a variance must provide the Bureau of Elections with a proposed alternative to the prescribed forms, as well as the additional information described in this section, at least 60 days before the election for which the materials will be used.”

6 Responses

  1. One substantial affordance missing is a hole punched through the outer envelope – as was used in Bucks County recently. This provides a “window” to inspect upon receipt whether the “privacy” envelope was used. This window enabled county elections staff to contact a voter enabling that voter to remedy their mistake.
    The hole punch was an effective and inexpensive way to solve a major problem of past mail-in ballot voting.

  2. STUPID; 1. The envelope says, “Official Election Ballot.” That is false. The envelope should say something like “Official Election Ballot INSIDE!” 2. “in the envelope” should say “INTO the envelope.” 3. “Sign inside” should say “1. Sign inside the box on the return envelope. Then, put TODAY’S DATE on the return envelope.” 4: As previously noted, the “stamps/no postage” line makes no sense. Either it needs a stamp or it does not.D

  3. how can it be in pencil? that is open to questioning if someone changed it. and after 2020 we know some people will go to any lengths to gum up the process with bogus claims and lies

  4. I thought it was confusing to print instructions in red for an average voter and instructions in regular black for those who sign with an “X” with a witness. Seem to me the “special” ballots should have been printed in red. I wonder how many ballots were thrown out due to this unnecessary change.

  5. so, do I have to put a stamp on it or is no postage necessary? These two statements are contradictory.

    1. It depends on your local county elections bureau, if they are footing the bill for postage or not. That determination is done at the county level, and varies around the state. If your ballot is multi-page it might also cost extra postage, about which your county bureau should inform everyone or it should be on their website at election time. You should also have the option of returning your ballot to a drop box or your county elections office.





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  • Understanding that basic education funding should/will be first, what should be the next highest priority for the General Assembly?


    • Raising The Minimum Wage (25%)
    • Legalizing Adult-Use Marijuana (24%)
    • None of the above. Something Else. (20%)
    • Economic Development (14%)
    • Higher Education (8%)
    • Public Transportation (8%)
    • Workforce Opportunities and Innovation (2%)

    Total Voters: 51

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