Pa. ACLU details concerns about mail-in ballots in letter to county elections officials
The ACLU of Pennsylvania is raising concerns about mail-in ballots after receiving reports of some issues in Allegheny County. The group worries the problems could disenfranchise some voters during the upcoming November election.
In a letter sent to the county’s Division of Elections manager Tuesday, the group said they’ve received reports that a handful of ballots were affected by a printing error that resulted in a missing voter declaration on the outer envelopes of some mail-in ballots. The letter also said “hundreds” of mail-in ballots were marked “undeliverable” and returned to the county.
Mail-in ballots must be returned with a signed and dated voter declaration to be counted. Vic Walczak, the legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, worried about the number of voters who might be affected.
“Our concern is one, they shouldn’t be sending out these kinds of envelopes missing the declaration. And two, to the extent that people have mistakenly sent back an envelope that didn’t have a declaration page on it, the county should be reaching out to those individuals and trying to get them a proper declaration envelope so that their ballots do count,” Walczak said.
David Voye, the division manager for the county’s Elections Division, confirmed the department received complaints of six or fewer ballots missing the voter declaration. After talking with the printer, the department believes the error was a result of ballots sticking together during the printing process.
Voye said that while printing mistakes are common, the issue was not a mass printing error or indicative of a widespread problem.
“We sent out 180,000 [ballots] and if there’s only six that are wrong,” he said. “I mean, you want to be perfect, but… the error rate is very miniscule.”
The county does not reach out to people it believes might have received a misprinted ballot, but Voye said the elections division replaces outer envelopes “daily.”
“You wouldn’t believe the number of dogs that eat them, the number of postmen who dropped them in the water or spilled coffee on them. This happens very frequently,” Voye said.
Voters who need a new outer envelope for any reason can call the elections division at 412-350-4500, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit theCounty Office Building downtown to request a new one.
As for the “undeliverable” ballots, Voye said it’s a common occurrence during election season; some people forget to change their address with the elections division when they move, and the post office isn’t allowed to forward mail-in ballots. So, they’re returned to the county.
But because the county doesn’t alert people when their mail-in ballot is undeliverable, Walczak said some voters could be left in the lurch as election day approaches.
“There’s a real concern that there may be people out there who are still sitting around waiting for their mail ballots and they’re not going to come,” he said.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania asked Allegheny County to follow up with voters who haven’t returned their mail-in ballots, and to notify voters whose blank ballots were returned.
“There needs to be action taken by the county elections board to try to make sure that those individuals learn about the problem and are given an opportunity to cure it,” Walczak said.
Voye said the elections division is currently in talks with the Pennsylvania Department of State about how they’ll handle undeliverable ballots going forward.
Voters can visit the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website to track the status of their mail-in ballot.