On September 15, the Pennsylvania Department of State issued new guidance telling counties not to reject mailed-in ballots solely because of mismatched or missing signatures. That clarification was made in response to a lawsuit that was triggered by the fact that more than 26,000 mail-in ballots were rejected during Pennsylvania’s primary election for signature issues. Now, counties will flag those ballots and give voters a chance to appear in-person to verify their ballots.
Then, on September 17, the state’s Supreme Court ordered counties to accept mail-in ballots that arrive up to three days after the November 3 election, as long as they were postmarked on or before Election Day. But there’s a potential wrinkle. Ballots “received within this period that lack a postmark or other proof of mailing, or for which the postmark or other proof of mailing is illegible, will be presumed to have been mailed by Election Day,” unless there is some evidence to suggest that they were not, the court wrote.
Both decisions are driven by a desire to avoid accidentally disenfranchising some voters who cast their ballots by mail. As I’ve written before, in-person voting reduces common mistakes that voters sometimes make—like voting for too many candidates or failing to sign a ballot—that are more likely to happen with absentee ballots. This year’s equivalent of the 2000 presidential election’s Florida recount, which hinged on “hanging chads” and ultimately required the U.S. Supreme Court to step in, is likely to be the very inexact science of trying to determine whether a signature on an absentee ballot matches the one on a voting roll.