December 3, 2022

Pennsylvania voters struggle to cast new ballots after GOP lawsuit


Six days later the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated thousands of mail-in ballots. A republican caseCitizens in Philadelphia and other parts of this battleground state scrambled to cast ballots so their votes would be counted on Election Day.

Kirby Smith, after he and his wife were told their mail-in ballots would not be counted because they missed the dates, stood in line for two hours at Philadelphia City Hall to cast alternative ballots, losing most of a workday.

“Oh I’m going to vote. That’s not a question,” said Smith, a 59-year-old Democrat who said he sees the court ruling as part of an effort to keep people from voting. “I’m going to fight back.”

Several judges have ruled over the past two years that mail ballots returned on time by eligible Pennsylvania voters must be counted even if the outer envelope is not dated. Republicans sued to reverse that policy in October, arguing it violated state law. Last Tuesday, they won a favorable ruling from the state Supreme Court, which ordered counties not to count ballots with missing or incorrect dates.

That decision prompted a broad volunteer effort to ensure that voters who had already returned their ballots would not have their ballots counted unless they took action.

Nowhere is that effort more intense than in Philadelphia. On Saturday, city officials released the names of more than 2,000 voters who returned defective ballots and urged them to come to City Hall to cast new ballots in the days remaining before Election Day. Community activists and volunteers for the Democratic Party and the Working Families Party began making calls, texting and knocking on people’s doors to get the word out.

On Monday, the line for alternative voting at City Hall snaked outside and into the building’s courtyard as volunteers handed out snacks and bottled water, voters and activists said.

“I’m lucky. I can wait in line and do this,” said Melissa Sherwood, a 25-year-old Democrat who works from home. “Some people who don’t have that luxury would probably take one look at that line and say no way.”

Penina Bernstein said she was thousands of miles away in Colorado — from friends and strangers who contacted her via Facebook — that her ballot was undated and would not be counted. He immediately planned to return to Pennsylvania to vote.

“I’m flying home tonight and I’ll be there tomorrow to fix it, because my voice will not be silenced by voter suppression,” said Bernstein, 40, who said he was not wealthy and was making the trip at significant expense.

Several volunteers said they spoke to many voters who said they couldn’t get to City Hall to correct their ballots because they were disabled or didn’t have access to transportation.

Mobilization to contact voters is a decentralized, ad hoc effort carried out by many different groups. Some voters told The Washington Post that they had been contacted multiple times about their ballots, while others said they had heard nothing until a call from a reporter.

“There may be several thousand Philadelphians who tried to vote legally and their ballots were not counted,” said Benjamin Abella.

Abella said the effort by his group and others is a grassroots mobilization to compensate for the lack of government effort to reach out to voters individually. Voters who went to City Hall found few workers willing to receive them — resulting in long waits. “It’s very unfortunate the way democracy works in America in 2022,” he said.

Shoshanna Israel, with the Working Families Party in Philadelphia, said efforts to help voters cast their ballots have snowballed since Sunday, and 250 people signed up for a phone-banking session Monday evening. The party has programmed voters’ names, ballot defect type and area of ​​residence into software that generates a script designed for volunteers to contact voters.

Many voters told The Post that they had not received any notification from the city government. Nick Custodio, deputy city commissioner, said Philadelphia officials made robocall calls to their constituents. But otherwise, he said, “we are focusing on the election tomorrow.”

Corporation officials had announced that voters can vote for differently-abled persons in the municipal council till 5 pm on Monday. But around 3:45 p.m., Abella, who was there, told some of the officials in line that they would not reach the office before the deadline and could not vote.

The decision upset some, and sheriff’s deputies came to enforce the decision. City Commissioner Seth Bluestein, a Republican, wrote on Twitter that it was a “disgrace” that voters were being forced to try to heal their votes at the last minute. City officials are “doing their best to help as many voters as possible with very little time and resources,” he wrote.

Not all counties in Pennsylvania notify voters if their mail-in ballots are defective and do not allow them to submit replacement ballots. Courts have found that state law does not require counties to provide an opportunity to correct defective ballots, but neither prevents them from doing so.

In Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh, officials released the names of more than 1,000 voters with undated or incorrectly dated ballots. More than 100 people cast their ballots Monday, according to city officials.

Darrin Kelly, president of the Pittsburgh-area AFL-CIO-affiliate, said his members cast ballots for 147 voters. His volunteer phone-bankers contacted about 100 of them by 5pm on Monday and expected to reach all of them by the end of the evening.

“The most important thing is to protect our democracy and make sure everyone has a chance to vote,” said Kelly, who guessed most of his members are Democrats.

At the Lancaster County Board of Elections’ public meeting Monday, a citizen urged the board to notify voters who cast defective ballots and allow them to cast another one, saying it would disenfranchise neighbors. One of the board members agreed, but the other two did not.

“We’ve never cured the ballot in Lancaster County, and it’s a questionable process,” said Joshua G. said Parsons, a county commissioner and board member. “It’s a questionable practice.”

In northeastern Pennsylvania’s Monroe County, Republicans filed a lawsuit last week in an attempt to block officials from inspecting mail-in ballots before Election Day, the first step in the county’s effort to ensure voters who returned ballots with errors — such as signatures or dates — received them. A chance to act as a replacement. A state judge denied that request Monday.

Meanwhile, the tussle over undated and misdated ballot papers is far from over. When the state Supreme Court ordered counties not to count those ballots, it instructed them to set them aside and preserve them — apparently with more lawsuits to come. On Friday, several voting and rights groups filed suit in federal court, arguing that counting those ballots as a “meaningless technology” violates the Civil Rights Act.

Election officials fear that a delay in counting of votes could fuel irregularities

Clifford Levine, a Pittsburgh-based Democratic election lawyer, said he expects 1 percent of mail-in ballots to be set aside for errors in tight races like the U.S. Senate race. As of Monday, more than 1.1 million Pennsylvanians had voted by mail, 70 percent of them Democrats.

Pennsylvania’s secretary of state has released the names of at least 7,000 voters whose ballots have been flagged as having errors, but Levin said the number will rise as more ballots arrive on Election Day — and some counties don’t want to recount mail-in ballots. , report errors to voters or share information with the state.