Election 2020: Unsolicited mail-in ballots worry residents
One Franklin County resident reports receiving three unsolicited mail-in ballots this month. Angry at what she felt was an attempt to get her to commit voter fraud, she tore them up and threw them away.
Franklin County Voter Registration Director Jennie Aines checked county records and found the woman is registered to vote. She verified the voter hasn’t applied for a mail-in ballot and said the county has not sent the woman a mail-in ballot either.
Aines has a theory about it, however.
She believes the voter received applications to apply for a mail-in ballot, not an actual ballot.
There are groups trying to get residents to choose mail-in voting over casting their ballots in person. They buy mailing lists and send mail-in ballot applications to names on the list.
Those groups aren’t affiliated in any way with Franklin County or it’s board of elections, however.
“It didn’t come from us,” Aines said.
The unwary voter didn’t look too closely at the materials in the three different envelopes addressed to her. She intended to vote in person, and now she had what looked like three mail-in ballots in her hands.
Fraud, poor memory or a misunderstanding?
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has heard similar complaints from voters who say they received unsolicited mail-in ballots this fall. He thinks they probably asked for mail-in ballots for the general election when they applied for them during the primary. Over a million Pennsylvanians did that, he said.
Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said Pennsylvania is not a state that automatically sends mail-in ballots to voters. Voters must apply for the ballot. The voter’s eligibility and identification is confirmed before a mail-in ballot is issued,
Act 77 also created a new option to allow voters to sign up annually to automatically receive mail-in ballots for all elections that year.
Shapiro and Boockvar advise anyone who voted by mail in the primary to check their current status at PA Voter Services.
What to do if you didn’t ask for the ballot
There are things local residents can do if they receive a unsolicited mail-in ballots. First, make sure you didn’t sign up for it when applying for a mail-in ballot for the primary election by checking the PA Voter Services website.
If you find you are on that list, it’s important that you don’t destroy or throw it away. You will need to turn it in at your polling place before you can vote. Election officials will invalidate the ballot and give you a new one to use that day.
The process insures each person can only vote once. If you don’t have the mail-in ballot with you, you can still cast a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots are added to the total vote tally only after election officials confirm the mail-in ballot wasn’t returned.
If you aren’t on the list to receive a mail-in ballot, and you still receive what looks like a ballot, it is isn’t a good idea to destroy it. Investigators might want it for evidence. Take pictures of the material you received, and keep everything intact. Contact Shapiros office and file a complaint here, or contact local elections officials or your local district attorney’s office.
Is it authentic?
First, check to see if the ballot looks authentic, like the ballot you would get at your polling place.
To be authentic, it should come in an official envelope from the county elections office. It will have the ballot inside, along with a secrecy envelope, green instruction sheet and a postage-paid return envelope.
The voter gets exactly the same ballot they would receive if they voted in person. The green sheet of instructions are clear and precise, warning the voter to put their voted ballot into the security envelope and seal it.
The sealed security envelope goes inside the mailing envelope. An unsealed security envelope invalidates the ballot. Ironically, or perhaps not so ironically, a voted ballot not returned inside the security envelope becomes a “naked” ballot.
The security envelope protects the voters right to privacy and his/her right to cast a ballot in privacy.
The return envelope is distinctive. The voter must fill out a section on the back of the envelope, date and sign it. Local election officials use that signature to verify the voter’s information on file, and verify their right to vote.