On Tuesday, many eyes were trained on the special election in Ohio; a few days later, they still are, because the race is still too close to call — only 1,564 votes are between the Republican in the lead and the Democrat contender of the seat in the House of Representatives. The race will come down to the provisional and absentee ballots. A similar scenario played out in Pennsylvania just a few months ago in the special election in which Democrat Conor Lamb beat Republican Rick Saccone by 627 votes.
Every vote matters. In Pennsylvania, however, due to a technicality, some votes won't ever be counted.
Jonathan Lai of the Inquirer reported this week that in statewide elections, thousands of absentee ballots are not being counted because they arrive past the deadline.
According to Pa. state election law, eligible voters can request an absentee ballot if they will be away on Election Day. The board of elections must receive the absentee request no later than 5 p.m. of the Tuesday before Election Day. A ballot is mailed to the voter's home. Here is where things get tricky: the board of elections must receive the filled ballot back by 5 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day — just three days after the deadline for requesting the ballot. If the ballot arrives after that time, it won't be counted.
Even if you did mail the ballot early enough, a delay in the post office is not considered a valid excuse, as the law specifically says that the time of the ballot's arrival, not when it was sent, is the time that counts.
In 2014, more than 2,000 absentee ballots were rejected — 86 percent of those were for missing the deadline.
A small rule change can make a big difference. New Jersey, for example, accepts absentee ballots throughout Election Day and only 21 percent of rejected ballots were because they arrived past the deadline.
In Pennsylvania, people are not even notified that their ballot has been rejected.
Changing the deadline should be a no-brainer. However, politics can get in the way. Any bill amending the deadline to be Election Day could open a Pandora's box of other, more controversial voting reforms. Members of each party could tack on amendments implementing their vision of election reform — which could range from attempts to reinstate voter ID to efforts to move all voting to mail-in ballots.
Harrisburg should show that it is still capable of bipartisanship. Neither party should oppose ensuring that ballots casted are ballots counted. Instead of making this issue a stalking horse for comprehensive reform, members of both party should show discipline and an ability to solve a specific problem.
We are less than three months ahead of the 2018 election. In 2014, the last midterm election, only 41.8 percent of registered voters voted in Pa. It is an insult to voters who made the effort to exercise their democratic right and had their vote not counted. Harrisburg must ensure that this midterm, every vote will be counted.