In a Victory for Voters, Pennsylvania Directs Counties To Print Full Year on Mail-in Ballots

Mail-in ballot cast in 2020 Primary. (Adobe Stock)

A Pennsylvania voter mobilization group announced today that it would dismiss its lawsuit contesting the rejection of mail-in ballots due to dates on outer return envelopes that were missing the final two digits of the year 2024. 

The voluntary dismissal comes in response to a new directive from the department of state requiring all 67 Pennsylvania counties to print ballots that include the full year “2024” on the date line — a move that the plaintiff organization, the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans (PARA), is hailing as a victory for voters. 

“We are relieved that no voters will be disenfranchised over this technicality and thank the Department of State for taking action on this issue. The Pennsylvania Alliance will continue to fight back when anyone tries to prevent older voters’ ballots from being counted,” the president of PARA said in a press release. 

In a lawsuit filed in early June, PARA claimed that the Lancaster County Board of Elections improperly rejected mail-in and absentee ballots cast in April 2024 primary elections that were missing the “24” in the year field. According to the suit, the county board flouted guidance from the department of state that instructed election officials throughout Pennsylvania to count ballots even if they were missing the last two digits of the year. 

PARA maintained that the county’s rejection of several mail-in ballots violated Pennsylvania Constitution and state law, especially since the year 2024 was displayed on the ballots themselves. 

As the lawsuit chronicled, the Pennsylvania Department of State redesigned the outer return envelope for mail-in and absentee ballots last year in a manner that ultimately led to the arbitrary rejections alleged by PARA. In particular, the first two digits of the year “20” were pre-printed on the envelope followed by two blank digits that voters would fill out by hand. 

Ballot rejection issues stemming from the 2023 envelope redesign were also front and center in a contentious election contest out of Luzerne County over the GOP primary results for the state’s 117th House District. Although a three-judge panel ultimately allowed the ballots to be counted, the legal battle caused delays in the state’s certification of its election results. 

Voting rights advocates are hopeful the department of state’s updated envelope design containing the full year “2024” will reduce arbitrary rejections of mail-in ballots on the basis of mere technicalities. 

In many recent election cycles, Pennsylvania has experienced a deluge of litigation over mail-in ballot rejections related to dates on mail-in ballot return envelopes. Democracy Docket is currently tracking three active lawsuits pertaining to undated or incorrectly dated mail-in ballots in the the Keystone State, all of which could potentially affect voting rules for 2024 general election.

Learn more about the case here.