An initiative of the Jeffrey Golan & Frances Vilella-Vélez Voting Justice Project
January 12, 2022 – In the 2022 General Election, more than 10,000 voters who timely returned their mail-in ballots were disenfranchised because they had made a harmless clerical mistake: writing an incorrect date, or no date at all, on their ballot envelope. In a victory for voters, the federal District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, responding to a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups including the Pennsylvania NAACP, found that rejecting these ballots for immaterial clerical errors violates federal law. That decision was appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals by the Republican National Committee.
Today, SeniorLAW Center, an advocate for older Pennsylvanians, filed an amicus brief in support of NAACP-PA, asking the court to uphold the lower court’s decision and stop Pennsylvania from disenfranchising voters who make minor mistakes on paperwork—many of whom are older citizens. They are represented by attorneys from the Public Interest Law Center.
“The older Pennsylvanians we serve face particular challenges when exercising their right to vote, from a lack of transportation to inaccessible polling places,” said Karen Buck, executive director at SeniorLAW Center. “Our commonwealth should not add to these challenges by maintaining needless clerical requirements in the mail-in voting process that so many older voters have come to rely on.”
“We should not make voting harder with pointless red tape, especially for vulnerable voters like older Pennsylvanians,” said Ben Geffen, senior attorney at the Public Interest Law Center. “The District Court rightly recognized that rejecting thousands of mail-in ballots for a harmless paperwork mistake does not uphold our right to vote, and the court’s decision should stand.”
The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits disenfranchisement based on “immaterial” paperwork mistakes that have no bearing on a voters’ eligibility.
“Affirming the District Court’s decision will protect thousands of Pennsylvania voters, especially older voters, from disenfranchisement on the basis of immaterial paperwork mistakes,” the brief reads. “This is exactly what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires, and this Court should affirm.”
Older voters are more likely to rely on mail-in voting. More than 11 million Americans who are older than 65 have a disability that makes travel difficult, according to the US Department of Transportation.
In the 2022 general election in Philadelphia, voters over age 50 cast 72% of mail-in ballots—and 81% of mail-in ballots that were rejected for clerical errors. An analysis by the Philadelphia Board of Elections found that 14% of ballot envelops with missing or incorrect dates came from voters in their 80s. A review of mail-in ballots from Philadelphia in 2023 conducted by Spotlight PA found that mail-ballot envelopes with missing or incorrect dates likewise came disproportionately from older voters.