Nov 30, 2023 - News

Pennsylvania simplifies mail-in voting

Illustration of a hand crushing a ballot.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Pennsylvania simplified its vote-by-mail process in an effort to reduce errors that led to tens of thousands of disqualified ballots in recent years.

Why it matters: Election officials said in a news release the changes were needed to ensure every vote counts in our battleground state, where some recent races were decided by less than 1,000 votes.

Driving the news: The Department of State announced the changes Wednesday, saying too many mail ballots were going uncounted because of small errors.

Zoom out: The announcement comes about a week after a federal court ruled that Pennsylvania mail-in ballots without accurate dates on the outside envelope must still be counted if they're received by the Election Day deadline.

  • The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by several advocacy groups who argued rejecting those ballots disenfranchises voters who make "trivial" paperwork mistakes, per the AP.

What they did: The redesigned envelopes have clearer instructions to guide voters through filling out and returning mail ballots, including:

  • Shaded fields where voters must sign and date the envelope.
  • A pre-filled "20" on outer envelopes so voters know to write in the date, which is meant to reduce the number of people who mistakenly write in their birthdays.

The intrigue: Election officials are also encouraging counties to add a watermark and change the color of secrecy ballots, which voters use to seal their votes before mailing them, to help differentiate them from inner envelopes.

By the numbers: Rejected mail ballots made up about 3%, or about 17,000, of the 597,000 mail and absentee ballots cast in this year's primary, per election officials.

  • That's down from 23,700 in the 2022 general election and 21,800 in the 2020 general election.

What they're saying: "Governor Shapiro has made it clear that the Commonwealth should help people succeed, not get in their way," Al Schmidt, the secretary of state, said in a statement.

Zoom in: 47% of mail ballots were rejected in the 2023 primary for being returned after 8pm on Election Day.

  • About 20% lacked a date, 15% were mailed without a secrecy envelope, 8% were incorrectly dated and 5% were unsigned.
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