Under current Pennsylvania law, when a mail-in ballot is submitted, local election officials must compare the information the voter provided on their ballot envelope to the information on their voter registration form. In at least some counties, this verification process involves signature matching. However, Pennsylvania law does not establish a procedure for conducting signature matching, require local officials to provide voters with adequate notice that their ballot has been rejected, or give voters an opportunity to correct the issue and recast their ballot.
Signature matching is a flawed and error-prone process for verifying mail-in ballots. No two signatures – even from the same signer – are exactly alike. Factors such as age, disability, education, signing surface, and even type of pen can impact the consistency of a signature. Because Pennsylvania embraces this unreliable and inconsistent ballot verification mechanism, it has a constitutional obligation to provide voters with notice and an opportunity to fix ballot issues to ensure their validly cast ballots are counted.
IMPACT OF COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to continue well into November and because of the passage of Act 77, this is the first year that Pennsylvania voters will be able to vote by mail in a general presidential election. While historically fewer than 5% of Pennsylvania voters voted by mail, in the June 2020 primary that number was over 80%, or 1.5 million voters. The November 3, 2020 general elections will likely see a similar increase in vote by mail compared to past years.
If Pennsylvania’s signature matching process is not corrected soon, thousands, or even tens of thousands, of eligible Pennsylvania voters will have their validly cast votes uncounted in the November general election.
Campaign Legal Center (CLC) is representing the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania (LWVPA), the League of United Latin America Citizens Council #20009 (Pennsylvania LULAC), the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh Urban League), Amy Campbell, and William Gilligan in a lawsuit seeking to ensure that Pennsylvania counts all validly cast absentee ballots.
LWVPA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization with members across Pennsylvania. LWVPA’s work is dedicated to protecting the right to vote for all eligible voters through advocacy, voter education, and providing direct assistance to voters.
Pennsylvania LULAC is a Latino civil rights organization with members across Pennsylvania. LULAC regularly engages in voter registration, voter education, and other activities and programs designed to increase voter turnout among its members and their communities.
Pittsburgh Urban League is a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based non-profit civil rights organization that works to educate its members and African Americans in Southwestern Pennsylvania on their rights, register them to vote, and encourage them to vote.
Plaintiff Amy Campbell is a Pennsylvania voter registered in Philadelphia County who had her ballot rejected in the recent June 2020 primary election. Ms. Campbell was not notified that her ballot had been rejected until June 11, 2020 – two days after the receipt deadline – because the Board “could not obtain [her] required signature,” and was not provided the opportunity to recast her ballot. Ms. Campbell is concerned that her future mail ballots may similarly not be counted on the basis of signature deficiencies.
Plaintiff William Gilligan is an 83-year-old Pennsylvania citizen who resides in Bucks County. Mr. Gilligan has suffered two major strokes, leaving his body very weakened. He uses a wheelchair at all times and has impaired control over his handwriting. He does not believe he could reliably sign his name in the same way each time he does so. Mr. Gilligan intends to vote by mail in the November 2020 general elections and future elections thereafter. Given his many medical conditions, he is at very high risk for COVID-19 and cannot risk voting in person.
*Morgan, Lewis and Bockius LLP is serving as co-counsel.
(Morgan, Lewis and Bockius LLP is a global law firm based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).