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Lawsuit Accuses Pennsylvania County of “Hiding” Invalidated Mail-In Ballots

— July 5, 2024

A recently-filed lawsuit claims that a Pennsylvania county’s commissioners made a calculated decision not to inform voters that their mail-in ballots had been invalidated over minor technical violations.

According to The Associated Press, the complaint was filed earlier this week against Washington County’s election board. It claims that commissioners made “systematic and deliberate efforts” to conceal policies of ballot invalidation, going so far as to direct staff not to answer questions asked by residents afraid that they may have made mistakes when casting their ballots.

“The board’s decision to conceal the true status of returned mail ballots with minor but disqualifying errors resulted in needless disenfranchisement,” said Witold Walczak, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “No government official or agency should knowingly disenfranchise its voters.”

The case was filed on behalf of seven individual plaintiffs by the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Public Interest Center and Dechert LLP.

All of the plaintiffs are Washington County voters who had their ballots invalidated for entering inaccurate or incomplete dates. One had also failed to sign the outside of their envelope, while another put their signature in the wrong place.

A 2016 image of a ballot drop box in Boulder County, Colorado. Image via Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/user:pasa47 . (CCA-BY-2.0).

Attorneys say that the unofficial policy disenfranchised at least 259 voters—many of whom still do not know that their votes were never counted.

“Because of the board’s actions, voters had no way of learning that their ballot would not be counted, and were deprived of the opportunity to protect their right to vote by taking advantage of an existing statutory process: voting by provisional ballot,” the lawsuit says.

The complaint asks a local court to declare Washington County’s practices unconstitutional, and to issue an injunction prohibiting the elections board from continuing to conceal information from voters.

The Associated Press notes that the county once followed standard practice: identifying invalid ballots, informing voters, and providing ample opportunity to correct their mistakes. But, shortly before this year’s April 23 primary, the commissioners cast their own ballots in favor of a more controversial policy.

In a split 2-1 vote, county officials enacted a new policy that would not let residents cure improperly-formatted ballots. Instead, invalid votes would simply be marked as “received.” Washington County’s two Republican commissioners voted in favor of their change, with the board’s lone Democrat objecting.

“County officials have eroded people’s rights to the dignity of our elections,” said 65-year-old Bruce Jacobs, an occupational therapist and one of the named plaintiffs to the claim. “And I believe that this must change.”


Lawsuit says Pennsylvania county deliberately hid decisions to invalidate some mail-in ballots


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