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Pennsylvania is trying to help voters avoid mistakes that would invalidate their mail ballot

  • Marc Levy/The Associated Press
A bundle of mail-in ballots marked

A bundle of mail-in ballots marked "Problem Return, (Outer) Envelopes" are set aside as election workers continue counting ballots for the Pennsylvania primary election, Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at the Mercer County Elections Board in Mercer, Pa. Vote counting continues as Republican candidates Dr. Mehmet Oz and David McCormick are locked in a too-early-to-call race for Pennsylvania's hotly contested Republican nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Pennsylvania is trying anew to help voters using mail-in ballots in the battleground state avoid mistakes that might get their ballot thrown out in 2024’s presidential election and beyond.

In a new directive Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration asked counties to start using a standard set of instructions to explain how to complete mail-in ballots, among other steps.

Shapiro’s top election official, Secretary of State Al Schmidt, said some counties already use these methods.

The effort comes amid a partisan stalemate in Pennsylvania’s Legislature and court battles over provisions in the state’s four-year-old mail-in voting law that have led counties to throw out tens of thousands of mail-in ballots cast by legal voters.

Voters completing a mail-in ballot must put their completed ballot into an inner secrecy envelope, insert that into an outer return envelope, and write their name, date and signature on the back of the outer envelope.

Among other things, the state wants counties to start using yellow secrecy envelopes and return envelopes with purple markings to help the postal service identify them.

In the 2023 primary, counties rejected about 17,000 mail ballots, or almost 3% of all mail ballots cast, the Department of State said. Almost half of the rejected ballots arrived after Election Day, while about 20% were thrown out for lacking a date and 15% for lacking a secrecy envelope. Smaller numbers were thrown out for incorrect dates (8%) or lack of a signature (5%), the department said.

Most mail-in ballots are cast by Democrats, and Pennsylvania is again expected to be a closely fought battleground in next year’s presidential election. Democrat Joe Biden beat Republican Donald Trump by slightly over 80,000 votes in 2020.

A federal judge ruled last week that rejecting Pennsylvania mail-in ballots for having inaccurate handwritten dates on their outer envelopes violates federal civil rights laws and that those ballots must still be counted.

The GOP has repeatedly fought in court to get such ballots thrown out, part of a campaign to invalidate mail-in ballots and mail-in voting in Pennsylvania after Trump baselessly claimed in 2020 that mail balloting was rife with fraud.

Democratic lawmakers have sought, without success to relax provisions of the law that have resulted in ballots getting thrown out.

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