Two Pennsylvania state senators told colleagues this week they are drafting a measure to count in-person ballots rather than absentee ballots in instances when someone uses both methods to vote. 

Before Act 77, a 2019 law letting Pennsylvanians vote by mail without an excuse like illness or travel, those who submitted absentee ballots but became able to vote in person could do so while having their absentee ballots voided. The new law, however, directs election boards to let an absentee voter cast their vote in person using a provisional ballot; in cases when the mail-in ballot was received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, the earlier mail-in ballot, not the in-person one, is recorded.

State Senators Jarrett Coleman (R-Allentown) and Cris Dush (R-Bellefonte) argued for returning to the commonwealth’s earlier policy of counting in-person ballots and voiding those individuals’ earlier ballots. They suggested that previous protocol allowed voters to change their minds if the information came out regarding candidates before the campaign season ended. 

“We live in an age of the 24-hour news cycle and a world’s worth of information at our fingertips,” Coleman wrote in a memorandum asking for other state senators’ support. “Restoring primacy to an in-person ballot ensures that voters can change their mind if new information comes to light about their preferred candidates, or something happens to change who they believe deserves their vote. It is my belief that the in-person vote should always have primacy over the vote cast by mail, and my forthcoming legislation will do just that.”

Coleman furthermore opined that many voters feel more secure casting a vote directly at the ballot box, where it is “extremely difficult for a person to fraudulently cast an in-person vote” on behalf of someone else. 

“We owe it to Pennsylvania voters to ensure they have the freedom to change their mind up to Election Day and recognize the security that comes along with casting an in-person ballot,” he stated. 

His proposal may see some resistance. Matt Germer, resident elections fellow at the D.C.-based R Street Institute’s Governance Program told The Pennsylvania Daily Star he would stick with giving primacy to early votes rather than in-person ballots whenever someone submitted both.

“I think at a high level it makes sense that once you have voted, your voting experience is done,” he said. “We don’t want to be in a system where campaigns are encouraged to tell people, ‘Well, hey, you’ve already voted absentee; we want you to go back and vote again in person and flip your vote to our side from their side. I think that kind of incentive structure would be frustrating for voters [and] costly for the campaigns; I don’t think it necessarily promotes confidence in elections.” 

Germer suggested reprioritizing voters’ in-person ballots over their mail-in ones would also burden election administrators who would have to process many more vote sheets. He also said voters who cast a ballot well before campaigns end consciously opt to choose candidates based on what is already known, so allowing them to change their minds should not be a priority.

“That is a trade-off that each individual voter is making,” he said. “They are saying, ‘I am willing to end the information-gathering phase and submit my ballot and enjoy the convenience of doing that… early….’ If that is a priority to that voter — if they want that absolute, last-minute flexibility — they still have the option to go in on Election Day if that works for them.” 

Pennsylvanians wishing to vote by mail in this year’s November 7 election are able to request an absentee ballot up to October 31.

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “People Voting” by liz west. CC BY 2.0.