More than 20,000 Mail Ballots Were Tossed Out in Pennsylvania’s 2020 Primaries

That's half of President Trump's margin of 40,000 votes in the state in 2016.
September 15, 2020, 4:42pm
Processing applications for mail-in ballots at the Berks County Office of Election Services in the Berks County Services Building in Reading, PA on September 3, 2020.
Processing applications for mail-in ballots at the Berks County Office of Election Services in the Berks County Services Building in Reading, PA on September 3, 2020. (Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

Pennsylvania officials rejected more than 20,000 mail ballots cast during its 2020 primaries, according to newly released numbers, a number that’s almost half of President Trump’s total 2016 win margin in the state four years ago.

The numbers from the Pennsylvania Department of State, first reported by NBC Philadelphia, show that fully 18,000 votes were tossed out because they didn’t arrive at election offices by election day. Another 2,000 more voters had their ballots disqualified because they forgot to sign their ballot envelopes, a legal requirement, while 7,000 were marked as undeliverable by the post office.

The state canceled nearly 40,000 total ballots. But a good chunk of people whose mail ballots were canceled were likely able to vote anyway: Roughly 6,000 had their ballots replaced and another 6,000 had the label canceled. Those voters likely were able to vote in person.

These numbers are a major concern for voting rights activists and Democrats — especially the rejected late votes. 

Pennsylvania, like many other key swing states, doesn’t count votes unless they’ve been delivered by the end of election day, but its deadline for when voters can request a ballot is late enough to be unrealistic under the best circumstances. On top of that, major slowdowns from the U.S. Post Office mean that votes could be delayed through no fault of the voter — potentially disenfranchising them.

This is the first time that Pennsylvania has allowed no-excuse mail voting during a presidential election, and because of the coronavirus officials are expecting a massive surge in mail voting. That means that the state is trying a brand-new system with extraordinary pressure to succeed — with voters that aren’t accustomed to voting by mail who are more likely to make mistakes that could lead to their votes not counting.

On top of that, President Trump’s ongoing attacks against mail voting mean that Democrats are far more likely to vote by mail than Republicans, so if a significant number of voters are disenfranchised by problems with mail voting that could benefit Trump. That combination in a crucial swing state is a warning sign heading into November.

Almost 2.2 million people voted in Pennsylvania’s 2020 presidential primary, just over one third the 6.2 million people who voted in the state’s 2016 presidential election. If the same percentage of voters’ ballots are rejected as the primary and November turnout is similar to four years ago, almost 50,000 ballots could be rejected for being late or for voters’ technical errors — more than Trump’s 2016 margin in the state.