Pennsylvanians rush to fix mail-in ballots after decision

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Some of Pennsylvania’s largest counties scrambled Monday to help voters fix mail-in ballots that have serious errors, such as incorrect dates or missing signatures on the envelopes they were mailed in, causing confusion and legal The battlefield state led challenges on the eve of the election.

Election officials in Philadelphia and Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, announced actions they would take in response to Supreme Court rulings in recent days that said mail-in ballots may not be counted if they lack accurate handwritten data on the outside envelopes.

Before the midterms on Tuesday, more than a million absentee and mail-in ballots have already been returned in Pennsylvania, with Democrats far more likely than Republicans to vote by mail. The numbers are big enough that they could matter in a tight race like the contest between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz that could determine majority control in the US Senate.

The State Department said it was unclear how many ballots were in dispute across the state. The agency asked counties over the weekend to provide the numbers, broken down by political party. Officials said some counties were not letting voters correct their mistakes.

Lines formed outside City Hall in downtown Philadelphia Monday and weekend as voters waited to correct their ballots. Some people on social media said the office didn’t reach everyone on Monday.

The Pennsylvania lawsuit was filed by Republican groups and is part of a multi-state legal effort by both political parties to have disputes over voting rules and procedures resolved by courts ahead of the midterm elections.

A new federal lawsuit over the envelope data was filed Monday in federal court in Pittsburgh by the Democrats’ national congressional and senate campaign organizations, two Democratic voters and Fetterman’s US Senate campaign. They sued county election offices statewide, arguing that tossing out ballots without proper envelope dates would violate a provision of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says people cannot be prevented from voting as needed.”

A separate federal lawsuit filed Friday makes a similar argument.

In Wisconsin, the Republican chairman of the State Assembly Elections Committee, along with a veterans group and other constituents, filed a lawsuit Friday seeking a court order mandating the confiscation of military mail-in ballots in battlefield condition. The lawsuit seeks an injunction ordering Wisconsin election officials to keep military ballots so their authenticity can be verified.

A judge on Monday rejected that order.

Also on Monday, an Arizona judge blocked Cochise County’s plan to conduct a Republican attempt to hand-count all ballots. The lawsuit aimed to prevent the County Board of Supervisors from extending what is usually a small hand count used to verify the machines’ accuracy to all early ballots and all Election Day ballots.

A challenge against voting by mail in Detroit was also thrown out on Monday after a judge ruled that a Republican nominee for secretary of state had “dramatically failed” to present evidence of violations in the black-majority city.

Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman on Monday urged mail-in voters who believe they made technical errors to contact their county election offices. If the county won’t let them fix the issue, they should go to their local polling station Tuesday and request a tentative vote, she said.

In Allentown, Lehigh County officials have reached out to all voters they could locate with problems with their ballots, Elections Superintendent Tim Benyo said Monday. He said there were a few hundred ballots in question.

“People were very interested in healing their ballots,” Benyo said. “We’ve been busy.”

Allegheny County election officials posted online the names and years of birth of voters who sent ballots in envelopes that are either undated or dated outside the acceptable range of September 19 through November. 8 for absentee ballots and 30 Aug-Nov. 8 for postal voting. These voters can fix their ballots in person at the polling station on Monday or Tuesday, or provisionally vote at their regular polling stations.

Allegheny reported that as of Sunday, more than 600 bogus ballots and nearly 400 undated ballots had arrived for counting. Philadelphia said it received about 2,000 undated ballots and several hundred more that appeared to be misdated.

Philadelphia Assistant Commissioner Nick Custodio said last week’s court decision and the deluge of ballots rolling in ahead of Election Day have made it difficult to issue direct notifications.

“So far we’ve only been able to publish a list on our website, but we’re evaluating what other options are available given the short timeline,” Custodio said.

Dozens of voters trying to correct their ballots turned up at City Hall over the weekend, and Custodio said more were visiting city offices on Monday. Volunteers from multiple groups contact these voters to see if they need help getting to the polling station.

A judge in Monroe County, a swing region in eastern Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, on Monday denied a Republican request to halt efforts by county election officials to notify voters about erroneous absentee and mail-in ballots and give them the opportunity to give to fix them.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that mail-in votes do not count if they were “contained in undated or incorrectly dated envelopes,” then that would be supplemented with a reorder on Saturday which set the allowable date range for mail-in and mail-in voting.

Ballots without properly dated envelopes have been the subject of litigation since absentee voting was greatly expanded in Pennsylvania under a state law passed in 2019.

Mail-in ballots must be in by 8 p.m. Tuesday, so at that time officials are urging those who haven’t already done so to hand them into polling stations or dropboxes.

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Corrected this story to require absentee ballots in by 8pm instead of 8am

___ AP reporters Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, Bob Christie in Phoenix, and Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia contributed to this story.

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Learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections. And follow AP’s election coverage of the 2022 election at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.

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