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Communities of color saw ballots rejected more in PA.
Communities of color saw ballots rejected more in PA. Photo: Rebecca Droke/AFP via Getty Images.

New analysis reveals rejected ballots in PA impact communities of color more

In a collaboration between Votebeat and Spotlight PA, the outlets analyzed the rejected ballots from three urban PA communities.

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In a collaborative effort between Votebeat and Spotlight PA, the outlets analyzed data from three urban Pennsylvania counties — Philadelphia, Allegheny, Erie — and found that current state policy that rejected undated and incorrectly-dated mail-in ballots, was more likely to disproportionately affect voters and communities of color. 

“Though [the Pennsylvania Department of State] has not independently confirmed [this] analysis, if accurate, the data you’ve compiled does take a step toward confirming with empirical evidence what we understood to be the case anecdotally,” the PA Department of State said in a statement after viewing the findings. “This minor voter error appears to impact specific communities of voters more than others, including older voters, low-income voters and voters in communities of color.”

An analysis of the county's lists were done between Nov. 4 and Nov. 7, and found that the 3,571 voters submitting the incorrect ballots were more likely to come from communities of color as compared to the voter population altogether in the county. 

In Philadelphia specifically, there was clear inequality. Those who submitted ballots with blank or incorrect dates were nearly 6% more likely to come from neighborhoods that have more nonwhite residents. 

How it breaks down is that 55.2% of all registered voters in Philly live in neighborhoods and areas of town with majority nonwhite populations. Sixty-one percent of voters analyzed for the Spotlight PA and Votebeat study came from those neighborhoods.

One of the many voters who was affected was an African-American mother of three from Allegheny County, Oprah Means. Means’ ballot was rejected over an incorrect date — that the state Supreme Court defines as falling between Sept. 19 to Nov. 8 — and said she could not remember exactly what date she wrote that would have led to her ballot being rejected. 

Means said that her ballot had been turned in weeks before she was actually told it had been rejected at 7:40 p.m. on Election Day. With that in mind, she was “not at all” surprised to hear there was a racial disparity in regards to rejected ballots.

“It felt like it was done on purpose to me,” Means said. 

“It felt just, like, disappointing,” she added. “The people I voted for won, but I was still upset my vote didn’t get counted.”

Similar results were found in Allegheny County and Erie County as well. In Allegheny, voters who submitted incorrect ballots were roughly six percentage points more likely to come from zip codes with higher than average populations of color. In stark comparison to Erie County where that number was over two percentage points.

The list of registered voters that Votebeat and Spotlight PA looked at for their analysis does not reveal racial demographics of the voters, which made it impossible to do accurate comparisons by race. 

The two organizations instead had to resort to using U.S. census data by zip code to find communities and neighborhoods with a higher than average percentage of nonwhite residents than the county altogether. 

Analysis of birth years from Philadelphia and Allegheny were also looked at in detail and their data found that the median age of voters turning in improperly dated ballots was higher — two to four years — than those turning in correctly-dated ballots in both counties. 

Mail-in ballots had been subject to controversy in the lead up to these past 2022 midterm elections. A few days before Election Day, Nov. 8, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced that any and all undated or incorrectly dated ballots would be rejected and not counted.

The subject is also again headed toward the Supreme Court for a ruling. The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, of Pennsylvania, along with the The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, NAACP, and other similar organizations are currently suing the PA Department of State in the nation’s highest court to have these ballots counted. 

No hearing has been held as of yet. 

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