ACLU Files Election Integrity Complaint Over Pennsylvania County’s Mail-in Voting Policy
ACLU Files Election Integrity Complaint Over Pennsylvania County’s Mail-in Voting Policy

By Beth Brelji

A new legal case in Pennsylvania may revive the debate over the rules surrounding voters’ signatures on the envelopes of mail-in ballots.

In Pennsylvania, voters casting mail-in ballots place their marked ballot in an envelope, which they are required by law to sign and date. That envelope is then placed in a second exterior envelope, also called a “secrecy” envelope, for mailing.

Numerous lawsuits have been brought in the state regarding how counties handle unsigned ballot envelopes. Election watchdogs have been arguing in court since 2020 over whether unsigned ballots are illegal and should not be counted, which tends to be a Republican view. Democrats tend to support allowing voters to cure their ballots by going to the county office to sign and date the envelope or to cast a provisional ballot on Election Day.

The left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) filed a brief in May, demanding an end to the requirement that voters date the envelope, saying the date is inconsequential because it is not used by election officials.

The ACLU-PA, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, and the global law firm Dechert LLP filed a lawsuit on July 1 against the Washington County Board of Elections on behalf of the Center For Coalfield Justice, the Washington Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and seven individual voters: Bruce Jacobs, Jeffrey Marks, June Devaughn Hython, Erika Worobec, Sandra Macioce, Kenneth Elliott, and David Dean.

A Washington County election policy change in April caused 259 voters to be disenfranchised in the 2024 primary election, the 178-page complaint alleges.

To Cure, or Not to Cure

Washington County officials did not respond to The Epoch Times request for comment before publication, but April meeting minutes indicate the three-member Washington County Board of Elections voted 2–1 to end the practice of notifying voters when their ballots are not properly completed and allowing them to cure the ballots at the election office, a reversal from a previous ruling.

Members of the public attended that meeting, calling it discriminatory, disenfranchising, and not fair for elderly and underprivileged voters, meeting minutes show.

Since 2020, when the Pennsylvania General Assembly extended mail-in voting to everyone, not just those who met specific criteria, more people have been voting by mail, but a significant number of people are having difficulties completing the process by making technical errors, such as forgetting the signature or date or forgetting to use the secrecy envelope, ACLU-PA Attorney Vic Walczak said Monday in a zoom call with media.

Washington County officials did not notify affected voters that their ballots were incomplete during the state’s primary election in April. The complaint alleges the county actively concealed that information so the affected voters would not learn that their vote did not count.

The complaint alleges that county officials directed staff not to disclose individual ballot information to voters who inquired about the status of their mail-in ballot, including whether they had made errors that would prevent their vote from being counted. The county also used the wrong code for unsigned or undated ballots when entering them into Pennsylvania’s Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE) computer system, which meant voters could not see that their vote was incomplete.

When a county enters a proper mail-in ballot into the SURE system, the system generates an email sent to the voter, acknowledging the state has received their vote. This assures voters their vote has been counted.

A “canceled” code entered into the system indicates a problem with the ballot. Boards of elections can mark a ballot returned with an error as “canceled” in the SURE system using one of the following codes:

  • a CANC — No Date
  • b CANC — Incorrect Date
  • c CANC — No Secrecy Envelope
  • d CANC — No Signature

The “canceled” codes trigger an email notification to the voter about their options to request a new ballot or to go to their polling place on Election Day and cast a provisional ballot.

But the board decided instead to mark improper ballots as “received.” This triggered an email informing voters their ballot “has been received” and that they “may receive another notification” if Washington County “identifies an issue” preventing the ballot from being counted, the complaint reads. “Otherwise, you will not receive any further updates on the status of your ballot … and you are no longer permitted to vote at your polling place location.”

The complaint asks the court to direct Washington County to provide accurate and timely information to voters about their mail-in ballots and to accurately enter ballot status into the SURE system.

“This is a fundamental right. The government should not only not be standing in the way of people exercising that right, they should be helping,” Mr. Walczak said. If someone voted in person and forgot to push the final vote button, he added, “they are going to help you, and this is no different.”


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