Commentary

Democracy hinges on counting every vote — again | Opinion

All candidates, regardless of party, can remind voters that the best way to ensure our elections remain free and fair is to get involved in the process

(Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

(*This post was updated at 10:18 a.m. on Sunday, 5/29/22, to correct a reference to the handwritten dates on mail ballots.)

By Al Schmidt

What a difference a year and a half—and a political party—make. 

As the recount between Republican U.S. Senate candidates David McCormick and Mehmet Oz gets underway, party representatives have taken starkly different positions on mail-in ballots than they did in November 2020. 

In our last presidential election, scores of Pennsylvanians—by and large Republicans—spent months decrying the security of mail-in ballots, arguing in courts and in Congress that those ballots were so untrustworthy that our state’s entire vote should be thrown out. This time around, many of those same individuals have adopted the count-every-vote mantra that in 2020 was bafflingly partisan. 

As a Republican Philadelphia city commissioner in 2020, I heard the “count every vote” chants at the Pennsylvania Convention Center where dozens of election officials did exactly that, as was our job. I now lead the nonpartisan nonprofit Committee of Seventy, which promotes election integrity and good government, and helps build trust in the electoral process. 

We are grateful that the 2022 primary’s counting and recounting—though frustratingly slow to voters and officials eager for a result—have been largely uninterrupted by the same 2020 lies that mail-in ballots are somehow more susceptible to fraud. Both the McCormick and Oz campaigns have rejected notions that mail-in ballots are anything less than legitimate. 

But because mail ballots have tended to put more votes in McCormick’s column, Oz, the Republican National Committee and the state’s Republican Party have called to disqualify time-stamped ballots that are missing a *handwritten date—throwing out legitimate votes on what amounts to a technicality, even when there is no question about the voter’s eligibility or that the vote arrived on time. When the goal is to hear the will of voters, all candidates should advocate for every ballot to count. 

What to know about the Pa. GOP U.S. Senate race recount

While some have adopted a new tune about mail-in ballots, nothing about those ballots has changed in the last 18 months. The 2020 election was the most safe and secure in our country’s history, if only because so many Americans were hypervigilant about ensuring its fairness.

That protective infrastructure has thankfully remained in place in Pennsylvania, where the few instances of attempted fraud using mail ballots are vanishingly rare, and easy to detect

Yet the Pennsylvania Legislature can still improve the process before November, when the world will look to our commonwealth for its role in determining the country’s future. Lawmakers should allow election officials to begin processing mail-in ballot envelopes before Election Day—a move supported by commissioners across Pennsylvania, from every political party—to reduce delays in election results.

They should also clarify mail-in ballot rules to stop legitimate votes from being thrown out on technicalities, such as omitted handwritten dates or so-called “naked ballots” that are missing their inner security envelopes. These commonsense, bipartisan reforms will not favor either political party, but will help ensure that every Pennsylvanian has a say in who governs us. 

And all candidates, regardless of party, can remind voters that the best way to ensure our elections remain free and fair is to get involved in the process.

Volunteer to work the polls, send letters to your elected officials to enact commonsense reforms, and encourage your neighbors to be informed voters; our website, seventy.org, has resources for all of the above. There’s nothing stopping anyone from getting a front-row seat to democracy and seeing for themselves how secure the system is. 

With that kind of trust, no one from either party will get away with changing their mind on ballot-counting come November, and Pennsylvanians—whether they’re happy about the results or not—will trust that their votes counted.

Al Schmidt is president and CEO of the nonpartisan Committee of Seventy, a Pennsylvania good-government and electoral watchdog nonprofit. 

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.

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