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Redesigned mail-in, absentee ballot materials in Pa. arriving in voters’ mailboxes soon

New color coding and highlighted sections may help voters avoid mistakes when returning mail-in ballots.
Cumberland County
New color coding and highlighted sections may help voters avoid mistakes when returning mail-in ballots.

Mail-in and absentee voters will soon get a chance to see the new designs for ballot materials, if they haven’t arrived already.

With the colorful envelopes and highlighted sections, the layout is intended to help voters correctly fill out the return envelope and remember to put the ballot in the secrecy sleeve.

Elections leaders are hoping for a simple solution that could limit the impact of a complex legal problem – what to do about voters who accidentally invalidate their mail-in and absentee ballots.

“The goal obviously is to make this as intuitive and as easy as possible for voters so that they don’t make an inadvertent mistake that results in their ballot not being counted,” said Jonathan Marks, deputy secretary for elections and commissions at the Department of State.

In the 2022 general election, over 10,000 votersput the wrong date on their ballot. What to do with those ballots has been the subject of years-long litigation, and as the court cases stand now, the wrong date will invalidate the ballot.

Likewise, if someone doesn’t sign the ballot or doesn’t use the secrecy envelope, their ballot won’t count. Since elections officials can only notify voters of errors that can be seen on the return envelope, and since people don’t always have the time to make it to the polls even if they’re told their mail-in ballot won’t count, voters who make mistakes may lose their chance to vote.

The state’s solution was to redesign the voting materials. In November, the Department of State told every county to use the newly designed ballot package.

The ballot itself stays the same, but the outgoing envelope, the return envelope and the secrecy envelope have been redesigned. The signature and date sections are now highlighted, and the required secrecy envelope is now yellow.

The new styles should help the U.S. Postal Service recognize mail and absentee ballots, and the yellow secrecy envelopes will help counties organize the returned ballots, Marks said.

Tuesday is the deadline for counties to begin sending out absentee and mail-in ballots that have already been requested.

Most counties have already started. Some, like Snyder, got a later start preparing mail and absentee ballot packages later than elections workers would have liked due to court cases. Snyder’s elections director Devin Rhoads said the county started sending out ballots last week and will have the backlog completed by Tuesday.

Voters can continue to request mail and absentee ballots until April 16 for the April 23 primary. Even with state law requiring counties to process those requests and send out ballots within 48 hours, elections officials encourage voters to act sooner rather than later.

“If you plan to vote by mail, you need to do so as soon as possible,” said Bethany Salzarulo, Cumberland County’s election director.

Elections offices must have completed ballots in-hand by 8 p.m. on Election Day, April 23, or the votes will not be counted. Voters can track the status of their ballots online.

If it’s getting close to Election Day, voters can hand-deliver their ballot directly to the county board of elections office, to drop boxes or dropoff sites, or to satellite election offices. Voters can only return their own ballots, with a narrow exception for people with a disability, who can designate in writing for someone else to drop off the ballot.

“I’m hoping that we see a significant reduction in the number of ballots that are not dated or misdated or not signed as a result of that,” Marks said.

Counties across central Pennsylvania have already sent out tens of thousands of ballots for the April 23 primary. Counties cannot start to process ballots until Election Day, which is when the state will learn how well the redesign worked.