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Washington County Voters Bring Legal Action Against Commissioners For Mail Ballot DQ Policy

Pennsylvania mail ballot envelopes 2024

Washington County’s elected commissioners were slapped with a lawsuit on Monday by voters who contend that the policy on curing mail-in ballots disenfranchised voters who believed their votes would be counted.

Seven voters, the Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ), and the Washington Branch NAACP claim that the policy deliberately concealed information about which voters had made disqualifying errors on their mail-in ballot envelopes and to affirmatively mislead many voters into thinking their mail ballots would be accepted and counted.

“I thought I had done everything correctly when I voted by mail in this year’s primary election, but I made a mistake. I had forgotten to sign and date the outer envelope,” said Bruce Jacobs, a Washington County resident and longtime voter. “Washington County election officials knew I made a mistake when they received my ballot. They knew that they would reject my ballot because of this mistake. I wish county officials had respected me, as an American with a fundamental right to vote, and given me a chance to address my error.”

Before the 2024 primary, the Washington County board ended its existing notice-and-cure policy for mail ballots. In previous elections, the county had alerted voters who had submitted ballot declarations with easily correctable errors, including incorrect or missing handwritten dates on the outside envelope, and provided an opportunity to correct the mistake to ensure the ballot would be counted.

The board’s new policy, which came after a 2-1 vote, was a reversal of its prior policy and ensured that 259 voters were disenfranchised in the recent primary election. Republican commissioners Nick Sherman and Electra Janis voted in favor of the change in the policy, while Democrat Larry Maggi opposed the alteration. 

In addition, the board also instructed its election office staff not to provide any information about disqualifying errors in mail ballot packets, even if the voter called the office to inquire.

With no way to learn that their mail-in ballot had been canceled, the voters had no opportunity to salvage their right to vote by voting a provisional ballot at their polling place. 

In neighboring Fayette and Allegheny Counties, where voters are given the opportunity to correct errors through a “notice and cure” process, 50 percent of voters or more do correct these errors so their votes can count.

“No government official or agency should knowingly disenfranchise its voters,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The board’s decision to conceal the true status of returned mail ballots with minor but disqualifying errors resulted in needless disenfranchisement. If Washington County provided accurate and timely information about voters’ mail-in ballot status, many of the 259 disenfranchised voters likely could have preserved their votes.”

After the board changed its policy ahead of the April primary, the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Law Center sent a letter urging it to revert the policy, or at the very least, use the existing statewide registration database system so that voters would be automatically notified by email. 

“The right to vote is fundamental to a well-functioning democracy and the right from which all others flow,” said Mimi McKenzie, legal director at the Public Interest Law Center. “The Washington board’s refusal to tell voters they made a mistake, and, in fact, to affirmatively mislead voters, is an assault on democracy. County boards of election should support voting, not obstruct it.”

The seven voters, CCJ, and the NAACP branch are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Public Interest Law Center, and Dechert LLP.

One Response

  1. If they knew a majority of the mail in ballots were from Republicans they would be notifying the voters of their errors.

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