Pennsylvania introduces new mail in ballots after multiple confusing elections

29 November 2023- After legal battles that have stretched into years, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has finally introduced a brand new mail-in election ballot to hopefully curb some of the issues involved in prior elections

The redesigned envelopes and instruction sheets have revised language to better inform voters how to properly fill out and return their mail-in ballots, with the goal of decreasing voter confusion that can lead to completed ballots being rejected and assisting county election workers in efficiently processing mail-in ballots.    

“In each election cycle since 2020, when no-excuse mail-in voting was implemented in Pennsylvania, we have seen thousands of mail ballots not be counted because of unintended technical errors voters made when completing their ballot,” Schmidt said. “The Shapiro Administration is committed to giving every eligible Pennsylvanian the opportunity to cast their vote and make their voice heard. Our hope is that these new materials will better assist voters in making sure their completed mail ballot packet is filled out correctly and can be counted.”  

The Department of State is prescribing more uniformity in county mail ballot materials to aid both voters and election officials. Voters can expect to see mail-in ballots that incorporate the following requirements, based on counties’ current best practices:   

  • New, more easily identifiable secrecy envelopes on a yellow background, with watermarking to discourage stray marks.   
  • Coloring to make it easier for voters to distinguish the inner and outer envelopes.  
  • Standardized full-page instructions with helpful graphics to depict the order of envelope placement.  
  • A pre-filled “20” at the beginning of the year on the outer envelope to alert voters to write the current date, not their birthdate, in that field.  
  • Coloring on the return envelope to highlight fields the voter must complete in the voter declaration including signature and date.  
  • Colorized outer return envelopes to help post office employees expediently identify and deliver ballots mailed close to Election Day. 
  • Uniform blue ink on outgoing mail ballots. 
2024 Updated Mail Ballot Instructions

Counties will also have discretion to implement the use of a hole punch in the return envelope to help county election workers identify when an inner secrecy envelope is missing, which will also be easier to identify with the new watermarking and yellow coloring on the inner envelope.  

In the 2023 primary, counties rejected about 17,000 mail ballots, which is about 2.8% of the 597,000 mail-in and absentee ballots cast. Approximately 21,800 mail ballots were rejected in the 2020 general election, and approximately 23,700 mail ballots were rejected in the 2022 general election. Data on rejected ballots from recent elections demonstrate the critical need for these revisions.  

The most common reasons for mail ballot rejection in the 2023 primary were receipt after Election Day (46.8% of all rejected ballots), lack of a date (20.3%), lack of a secrecy envelope (14.9%), incorrect date (8.4%), and lack of a signature (4.7%). The newly revised materials address these problems by providing clearer instructions on how to fill out and submit a mail ballot, which will decrease voter confusion and ensure fewer mail ballots are rejected in each election. 

2024 Updated Mail Ballot Return Envelope

“Voting by mail is a safe, secure, and accessible way for Pennsylvanians to participate in the election process. We have worked with counties, vendors, and the Center for Civic Design to develop these new mail ballot materials to improve voters’ compliance with the instructions so their vote can be counted,” Schmidt said.