By Ron Bandes
The PA General Assembly and Governor Wolf passed the first major revision to the election code since 1937. There are changes for voters, candidates, and election administrators. For voters, there are three highly visible changes.
First, Pennsylvania will now offer mail-in voting. The new mail-in ballot requires no reason for those who choose not to appear in person at their polling place on Election Day. Any voters who do not qualify for an absentee ballot (out of the municipality, ill, have a disability, religious observance, or official Election Day duties) may apply for a Mail-In Ballot. Both absentee and mail-in voters may now submit applications for permanent status to receive ballots for all elections for the year, and to receive renewal applications automatically each subsequent year.
Second, citizens have more time to register to become voters (and for voters to change their registration). The old law said you had to postmark your mail-in registration application or hand in your application by 30 days before the next election (it was really 29 days since 30 days before a Tuesday is always a Sunday). The revised law gives a voter until 15 days before an election to get an application into the hands of the Elections Division, no longer considering the postmarked date.
The deadline to apply for these two types of ballots is the same as it was for absentee ballots: one week before the election—but don’t wait that long! If using mail, you’ll need more time for three mailings (application, blank ballot, voted ballot). The deadline for the Elections Division to receive your ballot has been extended to 8:00 PM on Election Day. But don’t bring your ballot to the polling place! The ballot must be received at the Elections Division office (or a satellite location, if any, which can only be located outside the City of Pittsburgh); poll workers will not deliver it for you.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly seems to have given little consideration to either the details of implementing no-excuse mail-in ballots or to the security considerations of such a ballot. Mail-in ballots mean unsupervised voting. We have allowed unsupervised voting for people with an acceptable excuse (absentee) so they wouldn’t be otherwise disenfranchised. But unsupervised voting for everyone increases the risk of bribery and coercion for voters who don’t need to take that risk. Coercion doesn’t have to come from a thug; it could be a domineering spouse, employer, or circle of friends who could “help” you fill out your ballot.
Besides bribery and coercion, there are other concerns with mail-in ballots. Most election fraud in the United States involves vote-at-home and postal voting. You may recall the scandal in North Carolina just this past November, with a candidate paying a person to illegally pick up ballots from voters’ homes and alter them.
Mail-in ballots put the voter at risk of not having their ballot counted in a couple of ways. First, there is the possibility of the ballot getting lost in the mail, or lost just long enough to miss the deadline. Second, if the voter’s signature on the return envelope doesn’t match the registered signature, there is the possibility of the ballot being challenged, and no possibility of the voter providing additional identification or correcting the signature.
The third change for voters is the disappearance of the straight-party shortcut on ballots for November or special elections. You can still vote a straight-party ticket. You just have no shortcut to do it; you must mark all the candidates of the party to do so going forward. Straight-party shortcuts didn’t allow for choices for ballot questions such as new taxes (e.g., library or parks), new laws (like Marsy’s Law), or retention of judges upon completion of a ten-year term. Maybe these questions will get more attention now.
Candidates now have a little easier time circulating and filing nomination petitions and nomination papers. Some restrictions on who could be a circulator have been eased, and notarization is no longer required.
The county must keep records of the dates that absentee/mail-in ballots are applied for, approved, delivered, and received completed.
Ron Bandes is the President of VoteAllegheny.
NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 50 No. 3. April, 2020. All rights reserved.