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Category: Pennsylvania (page 1 of 3)

Don’t Get Caught Naked: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules That Mail-In Ballots Without A Secrecy Envelope (“Naked Ballots”) Won’t Be Counted

By Jessica Washington

Ever heard of a naked ballot? It’s when a completed mail-in ballot is put into the paid postage envelope without first being put into a “secrecy envelope.” And the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has recently ruled that naked ballots are to be thrown out regardless of the validity of the ballot.

There is a provision in the Pennsylvania Election Code that requires mail-in ballots to first be put into a secrecy envelope and then that secrecy envelope containing the ballot will be put into a regular mailing envelope which has identifying information for the voter to fill out. It’s not uncommon for a voter—especially a voter voting by mail for the first time—to forget to put their ballot inside the secrecy envelope before putting it into the mailing envelope. But this common mistake could potentially disenfranchise 100,000 eligible voters whose ballot is correct save the secrecy envelope issue.

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What’s in a Name?: Pennsylvania Requires Signatures For Mail-In Ballots To Be Counted And Decides Not To Throw Out Ballots For Signature Verification Issues

By Jessica Washington

Pennsylvania requires a signature for all mail-in ballots. The voter’s signature must match the voter’s permanent registration card.  If the signature matches, the voter’s ballot is counted. If the signature does not match, the voter’s ballot is discarded.

Prior to this year, signatures for mail-in ballots have been an issue. They are poised to become an even greater problem as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic taking the world by storm. As a result of the pandemic, many people have begun to work from home, had their groceries delivered to their door, and have limited their need to go out in accordance with health guidelines. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people than ever are expected to vote through mail-in ballots. This increases the chance that more ballots than ever will be discounted as a result of rejected signatures.

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Trump Campaign Wrangles Over Pennsylvania Poll Watchers

By Mikaela Phillips

“. . .[B]ad things happen in Philadelphia,” remarked President Trump at the first presidential debate on September 29th, speculating that “anti-Trump bias” was the reason local election officials earlier in the day barred his campaign’s poll watchers access to new satellite offices in the city. On October 1st, the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit against the Philadelphia County Board of Elections and three Election Commissioners, alleging that denying his watchers admission to the satellite election offices on the first day of in-person early voting violated the Pennsylvania Election Code. The campaign argued that “[t]he absence of poll watchers at polling places where registration and voting are occurring threatens the integrity of the vote in elections and denies voters the constitutional right to free and fair public elections under the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions.”

Section 2687 of the Election Code permits candidates to appoint two poll watchers per election district in which the candidate is on the ballot. While watchers need not be residents of the election district to which they are appointed, they must be qualified registered electors in the county in which the district is located. On Election Day, watchers are permitted at polling places; they may keep lists of voters, challenge voter qualifications, and upon request, inspect the voting checklists. However, poll watchers must remain outside the enclosed space until the close of polls. Section 2650also permits watchers to be present at public sessions of the County Board of Elections, as well as during canvasses and recounts. Lastly, section 3146.8 permits watchers when mail-in ballots are opened and recorded.

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PA Voter ID Bill Dies In Body, if Not in Spirit

By: Scott McMurtry

After taking unified control of the state government in the 2010 election, Pennsylvania Republicans set out to change the state election laws in two fundamental ways: a redistricting overhaul and an enhanced voter identification law. While the state and Congressional-level redistricting have survived legal challenges to date, plaintiffs were successful in persuading Pennsylvania courts to first stay, and ultimately strike down, the voter ID measure. While confusion over the implementation of the policy persisted even during the 2016 elections, it appears that Pennsylvania’s foray into stringent ID enforcement is over for the foreseeable future.

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Efforts to Challenge Pennsylvania’s 2011 Redistricting Continue into 2017

By: Scott McMurty

Election law—and particularly map drawing—in Pennsylvania carries the potential to have significant impacts on the composition of government in Washington, as the state has long been considered a battleground in national elections. Yet despite its reputation for competitiveness, Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation has consisted of thirteen Republicans and just five Democrats in the past three Congresses, following a redistricting overhaul by the Republican-controlled state legislature in 2011. This imbalance has sparked calls for redistricting reform in Pennsylvania, and in June became the subject of a legal challenge in Commonwealth Court by the League of Women Voters and disgruntled voters from some of the state’s more “convoluted” districts.

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Pennsylvania is leading the charge to reenact Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act

By: Ebony Thomas

From slavery to Jim Crow, America has a long, dark history in the treatment of its African American citizenry.  Although Congress ratified changes to the United States Constitution three times to benefit African Americans (i.e., the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th Amendment provided African Americans equal protection, and the 15th Amendment gave African American men a right to vote), the franchise did not come easily for former slaves. Many states imposed barriers, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation, and other methods, to keep African Americans from accessing the ballot. It was not until 1965, under the leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson, that the nation affirmed the promise of the Constitution to all Americans and effectively decimated States’ self-imposed barriers that kept African Americans from exercising their right to vote.  This legislation is known as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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Black Votes Matter: Pennsylvania’s Impressive History of Access to the Franchise

By: Ebony Thomas

Today, Pennsylvania’s voting laws are among the least restrictive of any state in granting its citizens access to the ballot. Pennsylvania is one of the few states that supports the voting rights of people with past felony convictions. Moreover, Pennsylvania has always been a leader in providing its citizens, especially its black citizens, access to its franchise.

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As early as the late 18th century, black freemen in Pennsylvania had the right to vote-well before the passage of the civil rights amendments (the 13th, 14th, and 15th). These gains were short-lived, as black freemen lost their suffrage rights in 1838 when the Pennsylvania constitution was amended. These freemen did not regain their right to the franchise until 1870 with the ratification of the United States Constitution’s 15th Amendment. During their disenfranchisement, blacks still fought for suffrage by petitioning and protesting for the Pennsylvania legislature to reinstate their rights. Yet their efforts fell on deaf ears. It was commonly held that apathy among black freemen and rising racial tensions between blacks and whites lost them their right to vote in Pennsylvania. Surprisingly, once blacks regained their right to vote in 1870, Pennsylvania did not impose any barriers on the franchise, in contradistinction to other states, which imposed barriers like the poll tax and literacy tests that ultimately led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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PA: The Constitutionality of Poll Watching in Someone Else’s County

By: Melissa Rivera

As the November 8 presidential election is swiftly approaching, concerns by some of election fraud are rampant. Especially in Philadelphia, some are concerned that this traditionally blue city will experience voter fraud. In an effort to curb this fear, in Philadelphia alone, at least 474 Republican and over 3,700 Democrat volunteer poll watchers’ names were submitted to election officials for vetting. This vetting process ensures that each volunteer is a registered voter from the county where he or she will poll watch. This county requirement is the subject of a recent lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

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PA: The Language of Amending

By: Melissa Rivera

Imagine walking into the voting booth and reading these words: “Should judges be required to retire on the last day of the year they turn 75 years old?” How would you answer? Would the answer depend upon whether the judges already had to retire at age 70 or if you were being asked to add a whole new requirement? This is exactly the consideration voters in Pennsylvania may be facing when they head out to the polls in November.

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Why leave room for foul play? The 10-Foot Requirement

By Lance Woods:

Pennsylvania’s decision to continue to keep the press from entering polling stations draws an arbitrary line and leaves room for foul play by ensuring that the voting process is not as transparent as possible. Continue reading

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