WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, Jan. 6, the Associated Press reported that over 16,000 mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania were disqualified during the 2022 midterm elections, a majority of which were from Democrats. According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, ballots were rejected because they either lacked a secrecy envelope or signature on the outer envelope, were wrongly dated (i.e. ballots had an incorrect date, such as the voter’s birthday, on their outer return envelopes) or undated (ballots were missing a date on their outer return envelopes). According to the AP, “Democrats had 10,920 votes thrown out, about half for lacking secrecy envelopes.” This means that Democratic ballots accounted for about 68% of the state’s mail-in ballot rejections during the 2022 midterms. This staggering number of ballot rejections comes after Pennsylvania was a hotbed for GOP sponsored anti-voting litigation leading up to the 2022 elections.
Before the 2022 midterm elections, the GOP and their conservative allies targeted mail-in voting in Pennsylvania with precision by:
- Challenging state guidance that previously allowed wrongly dated and undated mail-in ballots to be counted;
- Filing a lawsuit to upend cure procedures (the process by which a voter may be notified of a technical mistake with their mail-in ballot and attempt to rectify that mistake);
- Challenging Pennsylvania’s 2019 mail-in voting expansion law and
- Filing lawsuits seeking to limit drop-box use in two counties.
While courts denied the GOP requests seeking to eliminate cure procedures and limit drop box use, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on Nov. 1, 2022 that counties could not count wrongly dated and undated mail-in ballots during the 2022 midterm elections. While the court found that counting these ballots violated state law, it deadlocked on whether not counting these mail-in ballots violates the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act, a federal law that ensures voters are not disenfranchised for an immaterial reason.
As the AP explained, “Democrats’ much greater use of mail-in voting also meant they saw far more of their votes disqualified than did Republicans, independents and third party voters combined.”
Unfortunately, the news that Democrats’ mail-in ballots were rejected at an alarming rate is not a surprise, but rather an explanation as to why Republicans fought tooth and nail to ensure wrongly dated and undated ballots were not counted during the 2022 midterms and as to why the GOP continues to target mail-in voting in Pennsylvania.
Fortunately, pro-voting civil rights groups and Democrats are fighting to ensure voters are not disenfranchised for small errors during the next election cycle. Two federal lawsuits (one filed by Democrats and one by a coalition of voting rights groups) were filed in November 2022 challenging Pennsylvania’s plan to not count undated and wrongly dated mail-in ballots. Both suits allege that not counting these ballots violates the federal Civil Rights Act.