According to NBCnews et al, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that ballots that are returned (by mail) without the "secrecy envelope" are to be rejected.

Public officials (for example: Scribed have estimated that tens of thousands of PA ballots may be rejected for this reason. [IMO, the number of rejections is not the utmost concern, rather that ballots would be rejected for a trivial irregularity unrelated to timeliness or voter authenticity]

As I understand it (feel free to correct) the PA mail-in ballot consists of:

  1. An outer, preaddressed, mailing envelope provided by the election board that (on the reverse side) the voter is to complete and sign an affivadit or declaration of the voter's name, address, or whatever other information asserts that the voter and this ballot are fully qualified to vote.
  2. A plain, smaller preprinted sealable envelope with the words" Official Election Ballot". [As far as I can tell there are no other markings on this envelope.] This envelope is the referred to as the "secrecy envelope."
  3. An official Pennsylvania Ballot.

The instructions to the voter seem to be:

a) Complete the ballot

b) Place the ballot in the "Official Ballot Envelope"

c) Seal the "Official Ballot Envelope"

d) Place the sealed "official Ballot Envelope" into the return (aka mailing) envelope (preprinted with the Board of Elections address)

e) seal the return envelope

f) complete the affidavit or declaration (on the reverse side of the return/mailing envelope) with whatever information is required and sign the declaration

g) Place the return/mailing envelope in the USPS mail or deposit at other designated location.

It seems to me that if the voter wants to protect the privacy of his ballot choices, using the "secrecy envelope" might ensure that. On the other hand, if a voter cares not if someone at the election board can associate his name with a specific ballot, the "secrecy envelope" is unnecessary. Futhermore, if the voter chooses not to hide his ballot from other's eyes, that voter should not be punished by invalidating his ballot.

{Since this is a federal election, I would not be at all surprised if disenfranchised voters (for the above reason) would challenge the PA Supreme Court's decision to the Federal Courts.)

Is there some nuance that I am missing that would legitimize the rejection of these "naked" ballots?

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    This seems to be asking for opinions. We can't answer what "should" happen. Your use of the word "punished" makes this seem to be presenting an argument rather than asking a question. You are arguing that the rules are wrong. That is a fair point, but its not a question. – James K Sep 28 '20 at 4:10
  • This is hanging chads all over again. You have to complete the ballot in the prescribed manner; that's just how the process work. – Paul Draper Sep 28 '20 at 5:26
  • @JamesK would you prefer I replace "punished" with "suffer the invalidation of his ballot"? My comment (beginning with "it seems to me") is clearly an opinion, based on what I think is the consequence of the PA court action. Plainly, IMO the implementation of this rule will do more harm then good, for no advantage to the voters. – BobE Sep 28 '20 at 12:50
  • I see that the usual cadre has voted to close, without offering a comment to improve or relocate this question (notable exception being James K). It occurs to me that the VTC is being used to suppress answers that might be uncomfortable. – BobE Sep 28 '20 at 12:57

This "technicality" has a reasonable explanaton.

  1. The election officials receive the outer ballot envelope.
  2. They verify the declaration on the outer envelope. That means they must check who has voted. Potentially they could remember the name (deliberately or not).
  3. If the declaration is valid, the inner envelope goes into a big pile/ballot box.
  4. All the inner envelopes are opened and counted. The officials who count the ballot do not have to see the name that went with the ballot. So they cannot remember who voted how.

Making this layer of secrecy optional would allow coercion not to exercise the option. Think of it as similar to the requirement to use a voting booth at the polling station, rather than marking your ballot for all to see.

Setting reasonable rules is no "disenfranchisement."

People who go to the polling stations on November 5th cannot vote. That're not disenfranchised, they overslept badly. As I understand it there is an explanation text which comes with each mail-in ballot, and failure to read that and follow the instructions makes the ballot just as invalid as forgetting to go to the polls.

Setting unreasonable rules may be voter suppression.

If the instructions were missing or deliberately obtuse, that would be another issue. Then we would be in the territory of Jim Crow literacy "tests."

  • 1)Did you read the letter cited in the scribed link? 2) one of the ballots that were discovered in the trash last week, that voter wrote on the outer envelope that “his affidavit” was inside. (suggests that he was not comfortable putting his information and signature on the outer envelope). Should his ballot be rejected, because he did not sign the outer envelope? – BobE Sep 28 '20 at 12:17
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    @BobE, if everybody is free to alter the process as he likes, there is no process but anarchy and endless quarrels about edge cases. With elections, t's should be crossed and i's should be dotted, not the other way around. I might even support removing the inner envelope, but only for the next election and only by changing the process for everybody, not as a way to alter an election in progress. – o.m. Sep 28 '20 at 13:06
  • If you had read the letter you would have learned that 1) Philadelphia BOE traditionally decided to accept “naked ballots”, the change in guidance is just two weeks old, 2) the envelopes are opened and ballots extracted by machines (no human interaction) 3) PA seems to be unique in rejecting “naked ballots”. – BobE Sep 29 '20 at 2:04
  • As to your support, provided... ballots were already being cast in PA, when this rejection criteria was established. So, although early in the election process, this guidance WAS a midstream change. – BobE Sep 29 '20 at 2:10
  • @BobE, Philadelphia did send out instruction letters with the ballots, right? And those letters spelled out how ballots should be put into envelopes? – o.m. Sep 29 '20 at 4:46

The rationale for votes being secret is to make more difficult vote-buying or coercion. Rigging an election this way doesn’t just harm the individual voter, but society as a whole, so it isn’t just an optional extra that the individual voter can choose to forgo.

  • There is no law against telling people who you voted for. – phoog Sep 28 '20 at 5:20
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    @phoog Simply telling someone who you voted for cannot be verified. Showing other people your ballot is different. – Acccumulation Sep 28 '20 at 5:40
  • @Acccumulation - showing someone your ballot is a fatal flaw, such that the voter's ballot is rejected? – BobE Sep 28 '20 at 12:25
  • Contrast the PA situation with that of OH and Florida. (BTW, Trump has personally approved FL's system). In those states the voter declaration in on the inner envelope. Does that make OH and FL balloting less safe and therefore harmful to society? – BobE Sep 28 '20 at 12:37
  • Just curious - why so many downvotes? Yes, it’s a short answer, but I wanted to make sure there was an answer before it got closed. – Andrew Grimm Sep 28 '20 at 21:31

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