Mail-in voting poses potential challenge in Pennsylvania

Written By Jordyn Hronec, Editor In Chief

Alex Starsnic, a senior sports, arts and entertainment management (SAEM) major says that he is voting by mail in the upcoming election because he “feels like there’s gonna be a line.” He says that the COVID-19 pandemic especially influenced this decision.

“I just feel like, why wait in a line when you can just mail it,” Starsnic said. “Only bummer is I don’t get the sticker.”

For many like Starsnic who are planning to vote via mail-in ballot in the state of Pennsylvania, a new potential challenge has recently surfaced. On Sept. 17, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that anyone sending in a mail-in ballot would have to secure their ballot in a “secrecy envelope” before sending it in in order for it to be counted.

Under Count IV of the Petition Review, the PA Supreme Court ruled that “the mail-in elector’s failure to comply with such requisite by enclosing the ballot in the secrecy envelope renders the ballot invalid.”

According to local representatives from NextGen America, a national organization that works to organize and mobilize young voters, this could prove to be troublesome.

“This guidance came out last week, it came out of a Republican lawsuit, and it was also from a Philadelphia Commissioner who sounded the alarm that up to 100,000 ballots can be discarded,” Sarah Eagen, the Pennsylvania Press Secretary for NextGen America, said. “Because so many people are voting by mail. It is expected that around 3 million people will cast their ballot by mail in Pennsylvania.”

Eagen explained that without the secrecy envelope, a ballot will be considered “naked” and ineligible. She also said that the same is true for absentee ballots. She explained that the importance of secrecy envelopes is to protect a voter’s privacy in who they voted for, as public record is kept of who votes but not who anyone votes for.

“You need to use both envelopes,” Eagen said. “And in the primary, this wasn’t a big deal, because counties were still counting it, whether you messed up your secrecy envelope or not. But in the November election, they are not allowed to. If you do not use both envelopes, and you do not sign the back of the second envelope, which is called your ‘declaration envelope,’ your vote won’t count.”

According to Eagen, learning how to vote by mail properly is crucial, seeing as 100,000 ballots are being projected to be discarded and in 2016, President Trump won in Pennsylvania by a margin of only 44,000 votes. 

Starsnic says that he is confident about his decision.

“I feel like if mail-in voting wasn’t at least like, 99.9% secure, they wouldn’t do it,” Starsnic said. 

Starsnic also said that he learned about the threat of naked ballots from “everyone’s Instagram story” and was assured by the fact that mail-in ballots “come with instructions.”

Other college students though, like Erika DeGraef, a junior at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, are not so confident in the mail-in ballot system.

“I would trust mailing it in if it weren’t for the President and recent USPS issues,” DeGraef said. “I am voting by mail-in ballot, but I plan on dropping off the ballot directly at the collection center, just to be sure it gets there in time.”

In Pennsylvania, mail-in ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day (Nov. 3), or postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day and received the Friday after Election Day.

Some students, such as Jon Hanks from Nashport, Ohio and a senior at Point Park, are still choosing to vote in person.

“It’s the same week as my birthday, so I am driving home to spend time with my family and to vote with them,” Hanks said.

According to Eagen though, all students attending college in Pennsylvania, no matter where they are from, do have the right to register to vote in Pennsylvania.

“Just last week, the Pennsylvania Department of State said that if you are a college student, then you have the right to register to vote here . . . so basically, wherever you’re living this fall, so if you’re on campus, but you’re not doing classes in-person, you still have the right to register to vote here.”