On Wednesday, April 22, Priorities USA announced it was supporting and funding the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans’ legal challenge to four provisions that limit access to voting by mail or absentee ballot in Pennsylvania. The suit, which was filed today, argues that due to the coronavirus crisis, Pennsylvania’s upcoming elections will occur in the middle or immediate aftermath of a severe public health crisis. Citing the recent challenges faced by voters in Wisconsin, the suit also states that advanced planning and proactive measures to ensure that voters have access to vote by mail are essential to protect the right to vote and prevent large-scale disenfranchisement.
Because of the coronavirus, county election officials in Pennsylvania are also facing fundamental changes to the way they administer elections, including consolidated polling locations, loss of poll workers and election staff, and an unprecedented demand for absentee and mail-in ballots. Those administrative challenges give rise to obstacles that infringe Pennsylvanians’ right to have a meaningful opportunity to vote. As a result of this and other concerns, the suit seeks the following:
- The Commonwealth must provide prepaid postage on all absentee and mail-in ballots.
- The Commonwealth must implement additional emergency procedures to ensure that ballots delivered after 8 p.m. on Election Day due to mail service delays or disruptions will be counted.
- The Commonwealth must allow voters to designate a third party to assist in collecting and submitting absentee or mail-in ballots and ensure that all such ballots are counted if otherwise eligible.
- The Commonwealth must provide uniform guidance and training to election officials involved in verifying mail ballots and implement procedures to ensure that voters receive reasonable notice and an opportunity to cure signature-related defects on absentee or mail-in ballots before any ballot is rejected.
“While Pennsylvania has already made notable progress in their effort to protect and expand voting rights protections, this new filing will ensure that we make every effort to protect vulnerable citizens who face unnecessary challenges when voting by mail or absentee ballot,” said Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA. “It is critical that we consider how the coronavirus pandemic will impact voting.
“The right to vote is sacred. Older Americans take this civic responsibility very seriously,” said Dwayne Thomas, President of the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans and a registered voter who lives in Republic, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. “There are more than two million seniors registered to vote in Pennsylvania, and the Commonwealth is putting us in an impossible position. Either we put our health at risk and stand in long lines on election day at one of the few open polling sites, or we vote absentee without any assurance that our ballots will either arrive at our homes or be returned to the Board of Elections on time. The Secretary of the Commonwealth must extend the deadline for returning absentee ballots, and also allow voters who may be unable to leave their home to have someone else deliver a ballot on their behalf. We are calling on the court to act now and ensure that older Pennsylvanians are able to cast a ballot that will be counted.”