HARRISBURG—Today, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and partners filed an amicus brief in Hamm v. Boockvar, a case that challenges the state’s practice of notifying voters whose ballots have signature errors and allowing them to cast a provisional ballot.
The League was joined in the brief by the Black Political Empowerment Project, Common Cause Pennsylvania, and NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference. The organizations were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Pennsylvania, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Public Interest Law Center, and pro bono counsel from Covington & Burling.
“The League fought to establish a fair signature match practice in Pennsylvania last August because voters should not be disenfranchised because of a technical error,” said Terrie Griffin, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. “Pennsylvania’s effort to reach out to voters to fix technical issues should be applauded. It is unthinkable that the outreach efforts would be disrupted now—after all the ballots have been cast. Voters deserve to have their votes counted.”
Candidates Joseph Hamm and Mike Kelly, along with four voters, filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court on Election Day, claiming that the county election officials who were following guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of State had violated Pennsylvania election law by notifying voters that their mail-in ballots had been rejected. The petitioners asked the court to invalidate all provisional ballots cast by Pennsylvania voters whose mail-in ballots were canceled.
“The mission of the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP) since 1986 has been to encourage African-American voter turnout, and we encourage all people to vote in each and every election,” said Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project. “Any action that discourages voters from having the opportunity to express their choice goes against the heart of our mission. This include having the opportunity to correct any technical mistakes they may have made completing their ballot.”
"Voter suppression will not be tolerated in Pennsylvania,'' said NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference president Kenneth L. Huston. “Everyone who submitted a ballot has a right to have it counted. That was the reason time was taken to submit mail in ballots. It is the intention of those responsible for counting ballots to make sure that all ballots are counted. This reflects the voice of the people. This is what democracy represents.”
“Voters’ voices must be heard, whether they vote in person, by mail, or needed to cast a provisional ballot. Pennsylvania’s voters don’t deserve to have their ballots called into question by last-minute litigation filed for purely partisan reasons,” said Suzanne Almeida, interim executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania. “The process of notifying and allowing voters to fix mistakes on their ballots should not be controversial.”
A mail-in ballot can be canceled when the voter made certain technical mistakes, such as not using a secrecy envelope. By notifying voters that their ballots cannot be accepted, the amici assert, Pennsylvania counties have given voters a chance to make their voice heard. Invalidating provisional ballots would eliminate the only recourse to participate in the election for voters whose mail-in ballots would be rejected.
“Pennsylvania’s Election Code and its Constitution call for more, not less voter participation,” said Ben Geffen, staff attorney at the Public Interest Law Center. “The efforts by some county officials to notify voters that their mail-in ballots had been rejected were not only completely lawful, but were laudable. No one should lose their vote because of a fixable error.”
The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania previously filed a lawsuit, along with Campaign Legal Center, Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, and two individual plaintiffs, asking the state to create a “notice and cure” process for mailed ballots. In response to the lawsuit, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar issued guidance that county boards of elections cannot reject a ballot based solely on an election official’s belief that a signature does not match the signature in the voter’s file.
"The candidates in this lawsuit have a nonsensical interpretation of the law. But more importantly, if they succeed, some voters will be disenfranchised," said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "There is nothing in Pennsylvania law that suggests that a voter can't fix an error with their mail ballot. These voters should have their valid ballots counted."
“This lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to silence and disenfranchise eligible voters,” said John Powers, attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “County election officials have acted entirely lawfully here. The court should reject this meritless and unfortunate attempt to impugn local officials’ good work in this election.”
This year, the League has filed and won lawsuits to establish new notice and cure processes in several states, as voter interest in mail ballots surged amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, states that have adopted notice and cure processes after litigation have seen a dramatic increase in ballots that were counted.
PRESS CONTACT: Kayla Vix | 202-809-9668 | [email protected]
The Latest from the League
n response to a lawsuit brought by LWV of Pennsylvania challenging the state’s election procedures, PA Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar issued guidance to establish uniform processes across counties for counting mail-in ballots.
LWV of PA filed a lawsuit challenging the state's practice of conducting signature match verification yet providing no notice or opportunity for voters to fix any issues before rejecting their ballots.
Notice and cure processes are the most effective mitigation factor against voter suppression relating to mail-in ballots.