Every vote counts. But the reality in Pennsylvania is that not every vote is counted. In fact, if past patterns hold, more than 2,000 absentee ballots cast by Pennsylvanians this November won’t be tallied — and the voters won’t know it. The problem is the deadlines, election officials say: Outdated election laws set timelines that are too compressed. Would-be voters who wait until the end — and of course, people do — have almost no chance of getting their votes counted if they use standard mail service. Just three days separate the deadlines for requesting a mailed absentee ballot and for returning it to county officials. “We’re in the 21st century and we’re relying on a 19th-century system,” said David Thornburgh, head of the Philadelphia-based good-government group Committee of 70. “It’s just absurd in 2018 to be basically back in the Pony Express era.”
In 2010, election officials reported 2,162 absentee ballots were rejected for coming in too late; 2,030 were rejected in 2014. And given all the cuts endured by the postal service in recent years, election officials say that if lawmakers don’t act, the problem is going to get worse.
The numbers might not be enormous, state and county election officials say, but it matters that thousands of voters end up disenfranchised — and without their knowledge. And who knows — in especially close elections those votes might just make a difference.
Pennsylvania, with deadlines more restrictive than many other states, is a national leader in absentee ballots invalidated because of missed deadlines.