Pennsylvania Republicans voice concerns about midterm ballot counting in letter to secretary of state
Pennsylvania Republicans are raising several concerns about the midterm election process, including the commonwealth’s implementation of a recent ruling directing how mail-in ballots that were filled out with incorrect or missing dates should be handled.
'Your office should ensure counties have clarity that undated mail-in ballots should be kept separate from mail-in ballots with a completed voter declaration and that those ballots should not be counted,' Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman and Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, both Republicans, wrote in a Friday letter to acting Pennsylvania Secretary of State Leigh Chapman, a Democrat.
The letter to the Pennsylvania secretary of state comes days after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered election officials to disallow mail-in ballots with the wrong date marked on the envelope, potentially throwing out numerous votes in close races that could determine control of the U.S. Congress in next week’s midterms.
In its short ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court also said that it was evenly split on the question of whether throwing out ballots with incorrect dates or no dates marked on the envelopes in which they are mailed violates a federal law that makes it illegal to throw out ballots for trivial reasons.
For that reason, the court directed Pennsylvania county boards of elections to 'segregate and preserve any ballots contained in undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes,' the ruling said.
Such a move would ensure that the ballots were preserved in the event that a higher court overturns the ruling or finds that discarding such ballots would violate the federal law.
In addition to the treatment of undated mail-in ballots, Ward and Corman also expressed concerns about the rights of poll watchers observing the ballot counting process, compliance with a grant program incentivizing counties 'to provide election results in a timely and transparent manner' and 'ensuring voter’s identification is properly verified.'
The letter said that the Republicans were 'particularly troubled' when Chapman’s office issued 'knee-jerk guidance' on mail-in ballots last month after the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a Third Circuit court decision that had required undated mail-in ballots to be counted. The letter says that 'only a few hours' after that court ruling, Chapman’s office issued guidance 'suggesting counties should include' undated mail-in ballots in their returns.
'At the time you issued the guidance it conflicted with a 2020 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision, as well as guidance from your own website which states, that ‘if you do not complete the declaration on the return envelope your ballot will not be counted.’ This type of confusion only adds to the public’s mistrust of our Commonwealth’s elections.'
The letter also says that 'concerns have been raised that ballots have been sent to individuals whose identification has not been verified' and calls on Chapman’s office to 'provide an explanation of how this has occurred and provide assurances that no ballot will be counted where the identification of the voter has not been verified.'
'Voting is the cornerstone of democracy and voters should have confidence in the administration of elections,' Corman and Ward wrote. 'Too often election results are unclear for days or even weeks following an election. However, this is often due to avoidable circumstances. We implore you to take the appropriate steps to ensure a fair and accurate election next week.'
In a statement to Fox News Digital, Chapman's office said the letter 'simply rehashes topics Acting Secretary Chapman has repeatedly addressed.'
'All of their concerns and questions are addressed through publicly available information on our website, vote.pa.gov,' Chapman's office said. 'That information includes the department’s newly updated guidance to counties on handling undated and wrongly dated ballots, as well as the secretary’s response letter to Rep. Francis Ryan that provides the correct information about non-verified mail ballots.'
Following the Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday, officials in Berks County, Pennsylvania, voted on Thursday to notify more than 600 voters that they will need to take steps to rectify their improperly filled out ballots that had missing or improper signatures and dates in order for them to be counted, WFMZ-TV reported.
Voters will receive an email that their votes were canceled, and they will be given the options of either going to their election office and correcting the omissions or reporting to their polling location on Election Day and casting a provisional ballot.
In a Friday press release, Chapman said that 'voters who have been contacted by their county elections office notifying them that their ballot has been cancelled or who are concerned that their ballot may have been cancelled due to an error on the outside envelope should contact their county election office or call the Department of State's year-round voter hotline.'
The question of whether ballots with small errors such as a missing date on the envelope or a signature that does not precisely match the one a voter used when registering to vote has been hotly contested in recent elections in Pennsylvania.
In 2020, county boards of elections in the state were prohibited from rejecting absentee or mail-in ballots based on signature comparisons.
'Historically, Democrats are more likely to vote by mail than Republicans. Therefore, Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision could impact thousands of votes for Democrats across the Commonwealth,' Fox News Digital reported this week.
The ruling was a win for Republicans, who filed the case and who have been fighting to eliminate ballots with incorrect information on them in an effort they say is meant to ensure election security. Democrats say the lawsuits are really efforts to disallow votes and could sway tight races.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called Tuesday’s ruling a 'massive' legal victory.
'The PA Supreme Court agrees with us that incorrectly or undated mail ballots can not be counted in next week’s elections,' McDaniel tweeted. 'Republicans went to court. Now Democrats have to follow the law.'
Polling in the Pennsylvania Senate race between Democrat Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz shows a razor thin margin in a contest that many believe could determine which party controls the Senate going forward.
Reuters contributed to this report
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