The Reporter (Lansdale, PA)
Unequal election policies disenfranchised P.A. voters
This article is made possible through Spotlight PA’s collaboration with Votebeat, a nonpartisan news organization covering local election administration and voting. This article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy: https://www.votebeat.org/pages/republishing.
HARRISBURG >> Pennsylvania voters did not have equal opportunities to cast or correct their ballots during the November 2022 election, the latter producing a disparity that disenfranchised hundreds of voters, a Spotlight PA and Votebeat analysis has found.
As part of a first-of-itskind review, the news organizations contacted election officials in all 67 counties about policies regarding drop boxes and mail ballots that had disqualifying technical errors. The outlets focused on how counties treat mail ballots, as state law is silent on logistical details that directly impact how Pennsylvanians can vote and whether a person’s vote counts.
Spotlight PA and Votebeat also sought to understand the access voters have to physical polling places and to minutes of meetings held by county election boards that make critical policy decisions such as which ballots get counted and who gets a chance to fix their ballot. The review found:
• At least a dozen counties gave voters the opportunity to fix flawed mail ballots after they were turned in, a process known as ballot curing.
• At least nine counties specifically forbade voters from coming into a county election office to fix a disqualifying error on a mail ballot like a missing date or signature on the outer envelope. Nearly a million registered voters live in those nine counties, and at least 1,599 mail ballots
were rejected there for reasons including a missing date or signature, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of State.
• At least eight counties proactively reached out to voters to tell them about fatal defects with their mail ballots, while six published lists of voters that needed to cure their ballots.
• Twenty-seven counties gave voters access to at least one round-theclock
drop box for mail ballots, while 40 — primarily in rural areas — required voters to either mail such a ballot or turn it in during daytime hours to an election office.
• Sixty-two counties exceeded a state recommendation on how many voters can be assigned to a precinct. The cap aims to ensure voters do not have prohibitively long wait times to cast a ballot.
• Nearly 40 county election offices do not make meeting minutes accessible online. Among those, four make the minutes available upon request or in person at the county election office.
• Forty-six counties did not respond to the survey. Spotlight PA and Votebeat turned to publicly available data on the number of drop boxes, voters, and voting precincts in each county to supplement their review.
But information on ballot curing was often unavailable online, meaning the true number of people who weren’t allowed to fix their flawed mail ballots is likely higher than the news organizations could determine.
In Pennsylvania, the governor and legislature broadly set election rules. The last major overhaul of state law came in 2019 when former Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 77, which created no-excuse mail voting.
The law, however, does not outline major aspects of mail voting such as drop boxes and ballot curing, a gap that has presented problems for the county officials who create policies and the election workers who must carry them out.
Local election officials have asked the governor and legislature to clarify the law for years. But while Wolf and the formerly GOP-controlled legislature agreed on proposals like allowing pre-canvassing — a policy in which election officials process mail ballots ahead of Election Day — they deadlocked on more contentious issues like expanding voter ID.