It seems like an easy process.
Register to vote. Request a mail-in ballot. Receive, complete, sign and return.
Yet, Pennsylvania is headed towards a nasty fight over these ballots between deep-pocketed campaigns in the quest to secure the GOP nomination for the open U.S. Senate seat.
Why, you say? The directions seem simple enough.
Step 1. Read the instructions carefully and mark your ballot. Be sure to complete the front and back of each page.
Step 2. Seal your ballot in the inner secrecy envelope that indicates “official election ballot.” Do not make any marks on the inner secrecy envelope. Your ballot must be enclosed and sealed in the inner secrecy envelope that indicates “official election ballot” or it will not be counted.
Step 3. Seal the inner secrecy envelope in the pre-addresses outer return envelope. Complete, sign and date the voter’s declaration on the outside of the outer return envelope. If you do not sign and date below the declaration on the return envelope your ballot will not be counted.
But what if you do not put a date on the return envelope OR put your birthdate?
Welcome to Pennsylvania politics.
From personal experience, I can affirm that voters make mistakes when filling in the “Date (MM/DD/YYYY)” line.
What should voters have done? Put the date that the ballot was completed and set to return either in person or by mail.
What have voters done? I’ve seen more envelopes than I care to admit with someone’s birthdate. I’ve also seen envelopes with no date at all.
And that’s where the fight begins.
The Pennsylvania Election Code Section 1306-D reads:
(a) General rule.–At any time after receiving an official mail-in ballot, but on or before eight o’clock P.M. the day of the primary or election, the mail-in elector shall, in secret, proceed to mark the ballot only in black lead pencil, indelible pencil or blue, black or blue-black ink, in fountain pen or ball point pen, and then fold the ballot, enclose and securely seal the same in the envelope on which is printed, stamped or endorsed “Official Mail-in Ballot.” This envelope shall then be placed in the second one, on which is printed the form of declaration of the elector, and the address of the elector’s county board of election and the local election district of the elector. The elector shall then fill out, date and sign the declaration printed on such envelope. Such envelope shall then be securely sealed and the elector shall send same by mail, postage prepaid, except where franked, or deliver it in person to said county board of election.
You will notice that the Section does state “fill out, date and sign …” It does not indicate what “date” means. Expect this to be challenged by lawyers working on billable hours.
There also does not appear to be a disqualifier in the language should an elector NOT fully complete the envelope. A signature is required during the application process.
You should also know that every election office puts a time stamp on mail when it is received – note: every piece of mail. At least that’s what we did in my county.
So every mail-in ballot will have a date received stamp on the envelope, even if it does not have a completed date by the voter.
Should this be enough to satisfy county boards that the vote should be counted? Will boards disqualify mail-in ballots that are missing one of the “required” elements? Have county boards been consistent with their policy, i.e. did they follow a similar procedure in 2020 and 2021 elections?
As the race appears to be headed toward a recount that must be complete by June 7, expect the legal wrangling to continue.