CLC Sues Pennsylvania to Protect Absentee Voters in General Election

A man wearing a face mask putting an absentee ballot in the mail

Mail-in voting is a critical tool to ensure voters can participate in democracy while protecting their health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pennsylvania election officials conduct signature match verification for mail-in ballots yet provide no notice or opportunity for voters to fix any issues before rejecting their ballots. Unless this is fixed quickly, potentially tens of thousands of voters are at risk of disenfranchisement in the November election.

On August 7, 2020, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) sued Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar, challenging the Commonwealth’s practice, which burdens peoples’ constitutional right to vote, a concern amplified for people with greater risk of health complications from COVID-19.

Pennsylvania must create a uniform process to let voters fix signature-related issues with their mail-in ballots to give people confidence that their vote is being counted. Unless the courts intervene, tens of thousands of voters are potentially at risk of having their ballots rejected through no fault of their own.

Election officials use a voter’s signature on the outside of ballots to verify their vote, but Boockvar has provided no guidance requiring county election officials to provide notice and an opportunity to fix ballots flagged for rejection due to signature verification issues.

Rise in Mail-Voting

Mail-in voting has scaled up dramatically this year across the United States, but especially in Pennsylvania. In the June 2016 presidential primary, 87,000 voters cast an absentee ballot.

By passing Act 77 in 2019, Pennsylvania has joined more than 30 other states in allowing no-excuse absentee voting. As a result, during the June 2020 presidential primary, nearly 1.5 million voters cast their ballot by mail.

Every election cycle, election officials across the nation reject mail-in ballots cast by eligible voters because they mistakenly believe there is some defect or discrepancy with voters’ signatures. Thirty-six states have some form of signature match requirement on the books.

The states vary dramatically in their policies. Some states provide immediate notice to voters if their ballot is in danger of rejection and allow voters up to 21 days to fix it. Others do not notify voters at all.

Signature variance – and risk of disenfranchisement – is more prevalent among certain populations of voters, including those with disabilities, those with less formal levels of education, elderly and young voters, and voters for whom English is a second language.

CLC and the League of Women Voters have also challenged these policies in New York, New Jersey and North Dakota.

CLC is representing the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, and two individual clients in the case.

Corey handles media relations for the CLC voting rights and redistricting teams and creates online content. Follow @cgfromdc on Twitter