Pennsylvania Warns On The Naked Polling Booths

Nikki Attkisson | Last Updated : September 24, 2020

In Philadelphia, the top election official reports that in November, thousands of mail-in ballots might be tossed out unless changes are made to the secrecy envelope rules — second sleeves that help keep poll workers from seeing how anyone voted.

Pennsylvania warns on the naked polling booths

Last Friday, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that officials should refuse so-called naked ballots that are obtained without the veil of secrecy. State election officials had previously given instructions reminding counties that naked ballots should be counted. According to Philadelphia city commissioner Lisa Deeley, based on error rates in previous elections, that may mean more than 100,000 mail-in ballots are at risk. President Donald Trump won Pennsylvania by just over 44,000 votes in 2016, a central swing state.

Deeley wrote a letter Monday to House Speaker Bryan Cutler of the Republican state and Senate President Joseph Scarnati of the Republican government, calling for immediate legislative action to remove the confidentiality sleeve provision. She argued that the provision could cause the state to be the subject of severe legal controversy after the election, such as we had not seen since Florida in 2000. Deeley wrote that he hopes you consider this letter to be like me being a canary in a coal mine. Pennsylvania Republicans were warned by an official who manages elections in Philadelphia that as many as 100,000 voters could be disenfranchised if the state legislature does not amend a confidentiality law on mail ballots by November.

In a letter to Republican legislative representatives, City Commissioner Lisa Deeley wrote that the rules of the state requiring officials to refuse naked ballots or ballots submitted without a second inner secrecy envelope would set Pennsylvania up to be the subject of a significant legal dispute after the election, such as we had not seen since Florida in 2000. Mike Straub, the spokesman for Cutler, said there is no intention to adjust the criteria. In their decision, the Supreme Court was explicit that the secrecy envelopes served an essential role in maintaining every vote’s confidentiality, Straub said. This was made official by the court. We have no plans whatsoever to take it up again.

The Keystone State is one of only 16 states that still need a hidden envelope or sleeve. About 6.4% of absentee ballots were naked in the 2019 General Election. A rate that could mean 30,000 to 40,000 votes could be tossed out in Philadelphia alone and over 100,000 nationwide when applied to the November election. The hidden sleeves or the secret sleeves are a vestige of the past and are not required in this case because Deeley wrote, the ballots are no longer counted at individual polling places. Machines that process 12,000 votes per hour in secret envelopes are now counting the votes and 24,000 per hour without the personal envelope.

There is no chance at these speeds to pause or even slow down and identify how a person voted, Deeley said. The envelope of confidentiality remains now only as a way to disenfranchise well-intentioned citizens in Pennsylvania. Secretary of State Kathy has no system for repairing ballots that arrive without the secret sleeves. According to communications director Wanda Murren, Boockvar plans to provide revised guidelines on naked ballots. Immediately after the ruling Thursday, the advice on naked ballots was deleted from our website, and counties were told that it was withdrawn.

Voting experts and election officials are not worried about significant voting fraud from this pandemic-hit election’s increased use of mail-in ballots, but user errors are a real concern. And it’s a growing worry in Pennsylvania, a central swing state, that mail-in votes obtained without a second secrecy envelope inside will be thrown out after the state Supreme Court ruled last week. Philadelphia’s top election officials cautioned Monday that the disqualification of these naked ballots would cause electoral uncertainty, leading to tens of thousands of discarded votes and serious post-election legal conflict, something we haven’t seen since Florida in 2000. In 2016, President Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes, and this year the state is so important, FiveThirtyEight says, our model gives Trump an 84 per cent chance of winning the presidency if he wins the state. If Pennsylvania goes blue, it provides Biden with a 96 per cent chance of winning.

The disqualification of naked ballots of 100,000 or more could tip the election. But voters concerned that the confidentiality envelope may have been left out may track their mail-in ballot via a state website, / MailBallotStatus, to ensure that counted or remedial measures are taken. If you know how to take it, the use of both envelopes is not an onerous move. The Pennsylvania Secretary of State’s office put out a short video to walk through the steps (in English and Spanish) with new (or experienced) mail-in voters. The two-envelope rule is not included in Colbert’s video, so it’s not clear how well he understands the Pennsylvania ballot. But, if you need to learn how, where, and when to cast your one precious vote, his site has links to every state’s election site. It would cost little to abolish the provision, Deeley said, saving tens of thousands of dollars instead.

Failure to act would cost taxpayers heavily, she said, adding that in reaching out to voters to remind them to provide the double envelope, the state will have to invest heavily. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, sixteen states in total need hidden envelopes, including key countries such as Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, and Texas. The margin by which President Donald Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 was determined by a margin as low as 44,292 votes, but few. With the elections coming near the chaos is growing every day. Though this happens every time, the US has a presidential election, but this time the things are different. People are more vigilant and clear about what they want. Both the sides are supporting their candidates, and it is not going to be a small war. The battle is all set, and the guns are all loaded.

Nikki Attkisson

With over 15 years as a practicing journalist, Nikki Attkisson found herself at Powdersville Post now after working at several other publications. She is an award-winning journalist with an entrepreneurial spirit and worked as a journalist covering technology, innovation, environmental issues, politics, health etc. Nikki Attkisson has also worked on product development, content strategy, and editorial management for numerous media companies. She began her career at local news stations and worked as a reporter in national newspapers.

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