Voters question process as county irons out ballot issues
Updated: Oct 29, 2020
By Jamie Wiggan
Local residents among the 29,000 Allegheny County voters who received faulty mail-in ballots say their issues have now been resolved, but some still have outstanding concerns with the process.
According to a county press release, a mapping error on the part of third-party printing company MidWest Direct led to incorrect address lines appearing on a batch of 32,318 ballots, with the majority affecting Allegheny County voters.
The errors were first identified Oct. 9, affecting voters who submitted their applications on Sept. 28.
Several local residents confirmed they have since received corrected ballots. One of whom, Victoria Batcha of McKees Rocks, is a former poll worker.
“I think they were very organized with the paperwork,” she said. “But [Allegheny County] farmed this out and they should have spot-checked a few of them.”
Batcha said she received a corrected ballot in the mail on Oct. 20, adding that she was “satisfied” with how the county elections division responded to the error.
McKees Rocks resident Nathan C., who declined to share his entire last name, said he received a ballot with his name appearing beside a Robinson address.
He received a corrected ballot on Oct. 19, but said he felt some concern about any faulty ballots that may have been submitted without the voter’s awareness.
Questions about how these faulty ballots will be processed were subsequently raised in a federal suit filed by Republican Congressional candidates Sean Parnell and Luke Negron. In addition to challenging the county’s proposals for resolving the errors, the GOP hopefuls requested permission to inspect the election sites where the faulty ballots are being stored and processed.
Nicholas Ranjan, US district judge for Western Pennsylvania, denied the plaintiff’s request for an inspection but encouraged both parties to negotiate a settlement for the remaining issues.
Signed by both parties on Oct. 26, the agreement lists detailed provisions for handling votes submitted by those who received ballots from the faulty batch.
In cases where a voter returned only an incorrect ballot, only officials listed there who they could rightfully elect from their correct address will be counted. Where voters submitted both their initial errant ballot and their corrected ballots, the updated ballots will override all votes cast in the initial ballot.
Both parties hailed the settlement as a victory.
Mary Sue Flick, another McKees Rocks resident, received her initial mail-in ballot with an address from nearby Stowe.
“[The address] was close, but not quite,” she said.
Although she later received a corrected ballot, Flick said she was disappointed when she reached out to the elections division for assistance.
“It’s not a good system,” she said. “I called them on Friday and it was a mess. I got cut off twice. The line makes you wait until you’re close… and then they throw you into voicemail.”
Cleveland-based Midwest Direct has also come under fire from election officials in Ohio, where nine counties have reportedly severed ties with the company following a series of production and distribution delays.
The company has also received national attention for publicizing its support for President Donald Trump while fulfilling contracts with non-partisan election commissions. No evidence has been found to suggest they deliberately delayed distribution of mail-in ballots – more popular among Democratic voters – or employed any form of wrongdoing.
Is mail-in voting safe?
The onset of the coronavirus during the first election year since the Pennsylvania legislature approved mail-in voting means large numbers of residents are submitting their votes before election day.
A chaotic mixture of court rulings, partisan politicking, complex ballot procedures and bureaucratic glitches has added uncertainty to the election process.
Despite widespread concern, several states have permitted mail-in voting for years, with reported cases of fraud remaining low. Just as with in-person voting, mail-in electoral systems have built in checks to combat fraud attempts.
A 2017 study conducted by researchers at the New York University School of Law found incidents of fraud ranging between 0.00004% and 0.0009% across multiple elections where fraud concerns were reported. The study surveyed nine forms of mail-in fraud including “dead voters,” “double voting,” “vote-buying,” and “fraud by election officials.”
User errors are much more likely to sway election results in Pennsylvania this year. Mail-in ballots filed incorrectly or submitted after election day will not be counted.
Most notably, so-called naked ballots – those submitted without the provided secrecy envelope – will be rejected.
To avoid submitting a naked ballot, you must ensure your ballot is enclosed inside the provided secrecy envelope, which you must then place inside the provided return envelope.
•Mass mail-in voting was legalized for Pennsylvania voters in October 2019.
•As of June 2020, the Keystone State had more than 8.6 million registered voters.
•Despite a reduction in physical voting locations during this year’s primary elections, all regular polling stations will be open for in-person voters Nov. 3. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
•As of Oct. 23, nearly 3 million voters across the state have requested mail-in ballots. Around 1.5 million of those have so far been returned to the elections division for counting.
•Voters who apply for a mail-in ballot but decide they want to vote in-person must bring their ballots with them to the polls.
•The last day to register for the 2020 general election was Oct. 19.
• Pennsylvania mail-in ballots must be submitted by the evening of election day in order to be counted. The United States Supreme Court recently upheld a ruling permitting PA election officials to count mail-in ballots that arrive up to three days after election night as long as the postmark shows they were sent beforehand.