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Pennsylvania Can No Longer Reject Ballots Solely Based on Signature Issues

HARRISBURG, PA – In response to a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, and two individual plaintiffs challenging the state’s election procedures, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar issued guidance to establish uniform processes across counties for counting mail-in ballots. With representation from Campaign Legal Center and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, the plaintiffs filed a notice of dismissal this afternoon, ending the litigation. 

Boockvar’s guidance states that, for the 2020 General Election this fall and in future elections, Pennsylvania county boards of elections can no longer 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 League of Women Voters is pleased with the outcome of our case. Now Pennsylvania voters can cast their ballots confidently, knowing they won’t be rejected because of a signature match issue,” said Terrie Griffin, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. “The case for voters is strong, and we are cheered that this move represents true progress in voting rights for Pennsylvanians.”

“No voter should have to worry that their ballot won’t be counted because of a signature issue—and no prospective voter should be discouraged from voting for the same reason,” said Celina Stewart, senior director of advocacy and litigation at the League of Women Voters of the United States. “The League will always fight to make sure voters’ needs are put first, and Secretary Boockvar’s guidance does just that.” 

In 2019, Pennsylvania passed Act 77 and joined more than 30 other states in allowing no-excuse absentee voting. The passage of Act 77, combined with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in nearly 1.5 million voters casting their ballots by mail during the June 2020 presidential primary, a dramatic increase compared to previous cycles. 

“We at the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh are encouraged by the outcome, which will better protect our members, clients and all Pennsylvania voters' ability to vote by mail without unjustifiable interference by election officials,” said Esther Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. “This is a significant step in what the Urban League considers to be the right direction on our journey toward removing all barriers to civil rights and economic parity.” 

The dramatic increase in absentee voting, however, also meant that more voters would be at risk from the inconsistent application of signature-verification policies across the Commonwealth. Signature variance—and risk of disenfranchisement—is more prevalent among certain populations of voters, including those with disabilities, those with less formal levels of education, elderly and young voters, and voters for whom English is a second language. As a result of the newly issued guidance, no voter will be at risk of having their voter rejected due to a perceived signature mismatch. 

“As a result of this case, Pennsylvania voters can cast their vote without fear that their ballot could be rejected solely because an election official – who isn’t trained in handwriting analysis – thinks their signatures don’t match. Voting should not be a penmanship test,” said Mark Gaber, director, trial litigation at Campaign Legal Center (CLC). 

Pennsylvania mail-in and absentee ballot applications must be received by 5:00 pm on October 27 by a voter’s county elections office. The last day to register to vote in the general election is October 19.

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PRESS CONTACT: Kayla Vix | 202-809-9668 | [email protected]