A directive issued on Wednesday by the administration of Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro urged counties to adopt a standardized set of instructions for filling out mail-in ballots.
Al Schmidt, Secretary of State and top election official under Shapiro, noted that some counties have already implemented these methods. This initiative arises amidst a political deadlock in Pennsylvania's Legislature and ongoing legal disputes over the state's four-year-old mail-in voting law. These contentious provisions have resulted in the discarding of tens of thousands of mail-in ballots cast by eligible voters.
The process of completing a mail-in ballot requires voters to place their filled-out ballot into an inner secrecy envelope, which is then inserted into an outer return envelope. The voter's name, date, and signature must be written on the back of the outer envelope. The state is encouraging counties to use yellow secrecy envelopes and return envelopes with purple markings to facilitate identification by the postal service.
In the 2023 primary, approximately 17,000 mail-in ballots, or nearly 3% of all mail-in votes, were rejected, according to the Department of State. Almost half of these rejected ballots arrived post-Election Day, while around 20% were discarded due to missing dates and 15% for lacking a secrecy envelope. Smaller percentages were rejected for incorrect dates (8%) or absence of a signature (5%).
Mail-in ballots are predominantly cast by Democrats, and Pennsylvania is anticipated to be a fiercely contested battleground in the upcoming presidential election. In the 2020 election, Democrat Joe Biden triumphed over Republican Donald Trump by a slim margin of over 80,000 votes.
A federal judge recently ruled that discarding Pennsylvania mail-in ballots due to inaccurate handwritten dates on their outer envelopes infringes federal civil rights laws, and such ballots must be counted. The GOP has consistently contested in court to have these ballots discarded, as part of a campaign to invalidate mail-in ballots and mail-in voting in Pennsylvania, following Trump's unfounded claims in 2020 of widespread fraud in mail balloting.
Democratic legislators have unsuccessfully attempted to ease the law's provisions that have led to ballots being discarded.