Pennsylvania mail ballots can no longer be discarded by election officials if they believe a signature does not match the one in the voter’s file, officials in the key battleground state told counties on Sept. 14.
The new guidance issued by Pennsylvania’s Department of State Monday came amid growing concerns that tens of thousands of mail-in ballots could be discarded in the state in the presidential election over technicalities.
“If the Voter’s Declaration on the return envelope is signed and the county board is satisfied that the declaration is sufficient, the mail-in or absentee ballot should be approved for canvassing unless challenged in accordance with the Pennsylvania Election Code,” the guidance states. “The Pennsylvania Election Code does not authorize the county board of elections to set aside returned absentee or mail-in ballots based solely on signature analysis by the county board of elections.”
The news prompted a number of organizations, including the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Pennsylvania and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh to drop a lawsuit filed August against the department in federal court Monday.
“As a result of this case, Pennsylvania voters can cast their vote without fear that their ballot could be rejected solely because an election official—who isn’t trained in handwriting analysis—thinks their signatures don’t match. Voting should not be a penmanship test,“ Mark Gaber, a Campaign Legal Center lawyer who represented the groups in court, said in a statement.
Pennsylvania is regarded as an important battleground state where Trump won by a narrow margin in the 2016 presidential election by about 44,000 votes, beating rival Hillary Clinton by less than one percentage point.
Last year, the state passed a law allowing for no-excuse mail-in voting. Mail-in ballots have also surged in popularity recently amid the ongoing CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic. More than 3 million voters are expected to cast ballots by mail in the Nov. 3 presidential election—a figure 10 times higher than in the 2016 election.
Close to 1.9 million people have applied for a mail-in or absentee ballot, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s top elections official, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, said Tuesday.
The updated guidance from the state department comes after 1,773 out of 1.5 million mail-in ballots were discarded in the June primary following signature analysis by local election offices, according to Pennsylvania Department of State data. In total, more than 26,000 ballots were rejected, including for “signature-related errors or matters of penmanship,” the lawsuit had said.
One county election director, L. Edward Allison Jr. of Lawrence County, said that the state’s guidance is in line with his county’s practices and that he doubts it will be controversial with counties. One way of fixing it is to contact voters to come in to verify their signature, he said.
“We recognize the fact that, as people age, their signature changes, I know mine has,” Allison said in an interview, The Associated Press reported. “Different medical conditions, strokes, all that kind of stuff enters into it.”
Pennsylvania’s LWV co-president Terrie Griffin praised the outcome.
“Now Pennsylvania voters can cast their ballots confidently, knowing they won’t be rejected because of a signature match issue,” Griffin said in a statement. “The case for voters is strong, and we are cheered that this move represents true progress in voting rights for Pennsylvanians.”
Mail-In Ballot Concerns
President Donald Trump earlier this month raised concerns over the viability of universal mail-in ballots ahead of the Nov. 3 election. Trump’s reelection campaign has sued to prevent the use of drop boxes in Pennsylvania over voting fraud concerns.
During a packed rally in Latrobe on Sept. 3, the president called on voters to go to the polls in person after mailing in their ballot to check that their vote has been counted. He appeared to hint that mail-in votes are susceptible to being thwarted or manipulated.
“Sign your mail-in ballots, okay. You sign it, send it in, and you have to follow it,” Trump said at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, the venue for the rally.
He continued: “And if on election day or early voting that [vote] is not tabulated and counted, you go vote. And then if for some reason after that—it shouldn’t take that long—it [the mailed vote] comes in, they’re not going to be able to tabulate it because you will have [already] voted.
“You have to make sure your vote counts, because the only way they’re going to beat us is by doing that kind of stuff. I’m trying to be nice,” Trump said.
Mimi Nguyen Ly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.