Political News

'Naked' ballot rules put thousands of Pennsylvania mail-in votes at risk, Philadelphia official warns

Posted September 22, 2020 5:28 p.m. EDT

— Philadelphia's top election official is warning that thousands of mail-in ballots could be thrown out in November unless changes are made to rules around "secrecy envelopes" -- second sleeves that help prevent poll workers from seeing how someone voted.

The Pennsylvania Supreme court ruled last Friday that officials can reject so-called naked ballots that are received without the secrecy envelope. State election officials had previously provided guidance telling counties to count naked ballots.

Based on error rates in previous elections, that could mean more than 100,000 mail-in ballots are at risk, according to Philadelphia city commissioner Lisa Deeley.

President Donald Trump won Pennsylvania, a key swing state, by just over 44,000 votes in 2016.

Deeley wrote a letter Monday to Republican state House Speaker Bryan Cutler and Republican state Senate President Joseph Scarnati, calling for urgent legislative action to eliminate the secrecy sleeve requirement.

She argued that the requirement could cause the state to be the "subject of significant post-election legal controversy, the likes of which we have not seen since Florida in 2000."

"I hope you consider this letter as me being a canary in the coal mine," Deeley wrote.

Cutler spokesman Mike Straub said there's no plan to change the requirement.

"The Supreme Court was very, very clear in their ruling that the secrecy envelopes served an important purpose in ensuring the confidentiality of every ballot," said Straub. "The court has really made that official. We really don't have any plans to take that up again."

The Keystone State is one of only 16 states that still requires a secrecy envelope or sleeve. In the 2019 General Election, about 6.4% of absentee ballots were naked, a rate that when applied to the November election could mean 30,000 to 40,000 ballots could be thrown out in Philadelphia alone and over 100,000 statewide.

There is no process for fixing ballots that arrive without the secrecy sleeves, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar's office said Tuesday.

Boockvar plans to issue updated guidance on naked ballots, according to communications director Wanda Murren.

"The guidance on naked ballots was removed from our website immediately after the ruling Thursday, and counties were notified that it was withdrawn," Murren said Tuesday.

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