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Pennsylvania redesigns mail-in ballots in effort to decrease rejected votes

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CBS News Pittsburgh Live

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Pennsylvania is trying to decrease the number of rejected mail-in ballots by redesigning the envelopes and instruction sheets before the 2024 primary. 

The Pennsylvania Department of State says the new envelopes and instruction sheets will have better language informing voters how to fill out and return their mail-in ballots, with the goal of decreasing confusion that can lead to ballots being rejected. 

The state says approximately 21,800 mail ballots were rejected in the 2020 election. In the 2023 primary, counties rejected around 17,000 mail ballots, which is about 2.8% of the 597,000 mail-in and absentee ballots cast. 

Changes include full-page instructions with graphics, more easily identifiable secrecy envelopes on a yellow background with watermarking to discourage stray marks and coloring to make it easier for voters to distinguish the inner and outer envelopes. There will be a pre-filled "20" at the beginning of the year on the outer envelope so voters know to write the current date and not their birthdate and coloring on the return envelope will highlight the fields voters have to fill out in the voter declaration.

Colorized outer return envelopes will also help post office employees identify and deliver ballots close to Election Day, and counties will be able to hole punch return envelopes to help election workers identify when an inner secrecy envelope is missing, the Department of State says.

About half of the ballots rejected in the 2023 primary were received after Election Day. About 20% were rejected because they lacked a date and nearly 15% were rejected because they didn't have a secrecy envelope. About 8% had the incorrect date and around 5% were missing a signature. 

Pennsylvania's 2019 no-excuse mail-in voting law was enacted months before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and became the target of lawsuits after President Joe Biden's victory over former President Donald Trump in the state. Most recently, a federal judge ruled that mail-in ballots should still be counted if dated incorrectly. 

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