Some Philadelphia voters fix problems on mail-in ballots

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia voters who had missing or incorrect dates on their mail-in ballots were allowed to file replacement ballots at City Hall or vote provisionally at their regular precincts Tuesday.

Hundreds of people whose names were published Friday by the Philadelphia city commissioners, the city's election board, showed up at City Hall on Monday to correct errors with dates, as well as other flagged issues, including missing security envelopes and missing signatures.

A handful of county election boards made efforts to notify voters that they could fix ballot issues. Their outreach came in response to a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that mail-in ballots may not be counted if they lack accurate handwritten dates on the exterior envelopes.

A federal judge planned to meet early Wednesday with lawyers who were seeking to have mail-in ballots with minor problems counted.

In Pittsburgh, Allegheny County elections officials said by 7 p.m. that their workers had finished scanning 155,000 mail-in ballots.

But a judge in Luzerne County extended voting there by two hours, to 10 p.m., after supplies ran short at some polling places.

It’s unclear how many ballots have been flagged across the state. Philadelphia's lists contain more than 3,500 names, almost 2,400 of which were cited for missing or incorrect dates. Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to vote by mail.

The number of mail-in ballots is large enough that they might matter in a close race, such as the U.S. Senate contest between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz. Fetterman's campaign has sued over mail-in ballot counting rules.

The Philadelphia elections office, which normally closes at 5 p.m., stayed open until 7 p.m. Monday, but voters who had gotten in line to correct the issues after 3:45 p.m. were turned away, said Deputy Commissioner Nick Custodio, with the elections board.

Election workers strongly encouraged those voters to return to City Hall on Tuesday to file a replacement ballot, Custodio said. If they couldn't make it to City Hall, they could go to their regular polling place and file a provisional ballot, as well, he said. But, he said, it was important for them to do it early.

“We’re in brand new territory over here,” he said. “The law says those ballots (mail-ins) must be received by 8 p.m. today. It has to be IN the ballot box by 8 p.m. People should come early because the lines got very long yesterday and we want to make sure everyone gets through the process by 8 p.m.”

Day-of voting procedures allow people in line at polling places by 8 p.m. to cast their ballots even though polls close at 8 p.m. But Custodio said any voters still waiting to correct mail-in ballot issues at 8 p.m. would be out of luck.

Later, after polls closed, Custodio said no voters had to be turned away.

The city commissioners also voted in an emergency meeting early Tuesday to reinstate a process to reconcile the poll books while the count is happening, rather than waiting until after the count. The procedure has been used to weed out possible double votes in the past but has not found any issues during the past three elections and is slower than reconciling after the count.

Under the reinstated process, the final ballots are likely to be counted by Friday, depending on how many are cast, Custodio said. The decision affects at least 17,000 and as many as 30,000 mail ballots received by the city between Thursday and Tuesday, he said.

Andrew Richman, an attorney with Philadelphia's Law Department, said the vote came after a judge issued an order denying Republicans' request for an injunction that would have forced the city to reinstate the process. But the judge's opinion, which had admonished the city's decision to remove the process, raised concerns for commissioners.

“The Court’s unfortunate opinion has cast unwarranted doubt on the integrity of Philadelphia’s election at the eleventh hour and will feed disinformation campaigns that seize on every opportunity to cultivate distrust in the democratic process,” Richman wrote in an emailed statement. “The City Commissioners cannot ignore public concerns — however unfounded —created by the Court’s opinion.”