Ballot curing leaves room for human error. Lancaster County should allow voters to fix simple mistakes.

Khalif Ali writes on the Lancaster County Board of Elections's decision to reject a measure to allow ballot curing.

Originally published in the Lancaster Online on April 16, 2023.

“Human error” is a term used in scientific studies to describe the tendency of human beings to make mistakes. The brightest minds in the world leave room for human error when working on projects ranging from computer systems to rocket launches.

Errors are inevitable and unavoidable. We’ve all left our coffee on the roof of the car; written the previous year when signing the date in January (and sometimes into February); or overlooked a number when we input our credit card information. These tiny mistakes shouldn’t prevent anyone from casting their vote.

The Lancaster County Board of Elections disagrees. With one member absent because of illness, a Republican appointee to the board prevailed in rejecting a measure that would have allowed voters to fix a missed or incorrect date or signature on a mail-in ballot’s outer return envelope. So immaterial errors like forgetting to date an envelope apparently are good enough reasons to disenfranchise voters.

Lancaster County voters still will not have the chance to correct the clerical errors on their mail-in ballot that needlessly disqualify their votes.

Common Cause Pennsylvania disagrees with this decision. An accessible democracy is one that works for real-life voters, including those who might forget to sign or date their ballot envelope. Lancaster County’s decision is a step in the wrong direction. The opportunity to correct your mistakes should not be dependent on what county you live in.

Analysis by the nonpartisan news organizations Votebeat and Spotlight PA found that in the 2022 election, the rejection of undated and incorrectly dated absentee and mail ballots was more likely to impact voters from communities with larger nonwhite populations. Minor voter errors appear to affect specific communities of voters more than others, including older voters, low-income voters and voters in communities of color.

For that reason, we need statewide guidance on ballot curing. Our commonwealth should have uniform and equal voting access rules to ensure that every Pennsylvanian is receiving the same opportunity to fix mistakes if needed and have their vote counted.

Mail-in voting is tremendously popular in Pennsylvania. Since the General Assembly made mail-in voting available to everyone during the pandemic, millions of voters have chosen to cast their ballots that way. We should encourage these voters to continue participating in their elections by assuring them that their votes will be counted, even if they can’t remember if they put the date on the correct envelope.

Ballot curing may also help to prevent future mail-in voting mistakes. Now that no-excuse mail voting is here to stay, we should be helping voters to understand how this system works. Early intervention in the form of ballot curing can help to reduce mistakes in future elections.

It’s important to note that ballot curing will in no way affect the integrity of our elections. Ballot curing will not allow anyone to vote more than once, or impersonate another voter. Studies examining voter fraud allegations have shown that a majority of incidents of “fraud” are actually just mistakes committed by voters or election administrators, so perhaps ballot curing could actually reduce these incidents. Ballot curing can help voters feel confident, trusting not only that an election is secure and fair, but that their vote is being counted even if it is sent through the mail.

Eligible voters who have taken the time to seek out a mail-in ballot, decide on the candidates they want to vote for, and submit their ballot should not be denied the right to have their vote counted due to mistakes that are irrelevant to their voter status. From Lancaster to Erie, every county in Pennsylvania should have clear guidelines on the availability of ballot curing.

To err is human, as the saying goes, but all Pennsylvanians should have the right to cure.