Judge Orders Pennsylvania County To Count Three Voters’ Ballots From May Primary

WASHINGTON, D.C. On Thursday, Sept. 21 a Delaware County, Pennsylvania judge ruled that three voters’ provisional ballots must be included in the vote tally for Pennsylvania’s May 16, 2023 municipal primary election. 

This ruling stems from a lawsuit filed in May on behalf of three voters who attempted to vote using provisional ballots after the board canceled their mail-in ballots “because of purported defects on the outer envelope or a missing inner secrecy envelope.” The plaintiffs did not complete Delaware County’s cure process to remedy their defective mail-in ballots; instead, they went to their polling place to complete provisional ballots (as advised by the Pennsylvania Department of State). After the primary, the Delaware County Board of Elections did not count these voters’ ballots, but as a result of this ruling, the voters’ provisional ballots will be counted. 

This ruling is a victory for Delaware County, Pennsylvania voters who will no longer be disenfranchised by no fault of their own. ‘”It is the longstanding and overriding policy in this Commonwealth to protect the elective franchise. The Election Code must be liberally construed so as not to deprive … the voters of their right to elect a candidate of their choice. It is therefore a wellsettled principle of Pennsylvania election law that every rationalization within the realm of common sense should aim at saving the ballot rather than voiding it,”’ the decision reads. 

Due to rules that require voters to date and sign their ballot’s outer envelope and insert each ballot into an additional secrecy envelope, Pennsylvania rejects mail-in ballots at a staggering rate. After the 2022 midterm elections, data from the secretary of state’s office showed that Democratic ballots accounted for about 68% of the state’s mail-in ballot rejections during the 2022 midterms. Reporting from Votebeat found that in Philadelphia specifically, “voters from heavily nonwhite and lower-income communities in Philadelphia are more likely to have their ballots rejected due to simple mistakes.” 

While Thursday’s ruling only applies to Philadelphia-area Delaware County, the fight to ensure voters are not disenfranchised for small errors or omissions continues in federal court on a slightly different, but related, issue. 

Currently, there are two ongoing lawsuits in federal court challenging Pennsylvania’s policy that requires county boards to reject mail-in ballots that are either incorrectly dated or missing a date on their outer envelope.

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.

Learn more about the ongoing federal lawsuits about undated and wrongly dated mail-in ballots here.