Steps to Enhance Election Integrity


  • In 2020, Pennsylvania’s newly amended election law struggled under unprecedented mail-in voting, yet last minute state guidance and judicial decisions not only skirted election law, but further delayed results and exacerbated confusion and concern for future elections.
  • According to the state constitution, election law changes must occur via legislative process.[1]
  • To preserve the integrity of elections, state law must impose manageable mail-in ballot deadlines to ensure timely, accurate processing and clarify a remediation processes for flawed ballots.
  • A majority of voters of all political parties support election reform proposals, including deadlines to apply for and submit mail-in ballots.[2]


  • Act 77 of 2019 approved “no-excuse” mail-in voting, yet an unanticipated 3.1 million mail-in ballot requests during the 2020 election far exceeded the 262,000 absentee ballots cast in 2016.[3] Several notable issues arose.
    • Delayed ballot processing. County officials could not begin pre-canvassing (prepping, but not recording results) mail-in ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day.[4] Many election officials struggled to process mail-in ballots simultaneous to operating polls, postponing vote results for days.
    • Unrealistic ballot application deadlines. Voters can request mail-in ballots up to seven days prior to the election, however, delays in receiving and completing mail-in ballots compromised voters’ ability to meet the 8 p.m. voting deadline. Consequently, a reported 100,000 voters instead cast time-consuming provisional ballots at the polls.
    • Ballot “curing” confusion. The Election Code states ballots with missing signatures or secrecy envelopes (“naked ballots”) should be voided, yet is silent on if, and how, voters could be notified and allowed to cure their ballots—leading counties to seek guidance that opened the door for inconsistent treatment of ballots.[5]
  • Judicial rulings and Department of State guidance complicated election procedures and at times contradicted election law. County officials were confused by changing Department of State (DOS) guidance, questioning whether it was statutory or “truly guidance/best practices.” [6]
    • Altering voting deadlines. Act 77 pushed the mail-in ballot submission deadline from the Friday before an election to 8 p.m. Election Day. Yet, in September 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court circumvented the statutory deadline to receive mail-in ballots by extending it three days regardless of postmarks.[7] DOS then issued last minute, conflicting instructions on canvassing those post-deadline ballots.[8]
    • Determining ballot defect procedures outside of state law. DOS told counties mail-in ballots could not be rejected because of signature analysis[9] and that they could alert voters—or political parties as the intermediary—of ballot defects in order to submit provisional ballots at the polls. State courts upheld these directives just prior to Election Day.[10]


  • Move the mail-in ballot application deadline from seven to at least 15 days before an election to ensure every vote counts.
    • An earlier deadline will provide voters enough time to apply, receive, and cast their votes. Voters will receive their confirmation email, eliminating the doubt driving voters to the polls to vote provisionally as a fail-safe. At the same time, counties will have more time to assure poll books are as current as possible.
    • This aligns with USPS and County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) recommendations, as well as with states that have long used mail-in ballots.
  • Institute a window within which counties must send mail-in ballots, including a 4-week pre-Election Day deadline.
    • Requiring counties to send mail-in ballots to applicants “when ballots are official”[11] and four weeks before Election Day—and within 48 hours for subsequent applications until the application deadline—will guarantee more voters receive and submit accurate ballots by the Election Day deadline.
  • Require jurisdictions to begin processing absentee ballots the Friday before Election Day to improve the timeliness of results.
    • Pre-canvassing before Election Day will help prevent long delays in vote counting and is supported by CCAP and Governor Wolf.
  • Require absentee ballots to be received by the time polls close and allow voters to submit their mail-in ballots at the polls on Election Day.[12]
    • An Election Day deadline to receive ballots will eliminate the possibility of post-election voting and minimize vote counting delays.
    • Allowing voters to drop off their mail-in ballots at the polls will address voter concerns of missing the voting deadline, eliminate the need for unstaffed remote drop boxes, and reduce confusion on whether someone appearing at the polls without a voided mail-in ballot actually voted or needs a provisional ballot.
  • Provide legislative clarity on ballot remediation and drop boxes addressed via state guidance and the courts during the 2020 election. 
    • Ballot standards should be uniform and set by law, not left to the governor, courts, or counties, as that creates opportunities for inconsistencies by location and election.
    • Statute should specify any remediation process, with deadlines, for ballots that are incomplete, incorrectly completed, or have signature flaws, and outline if and how voters are notified.
    • Legislative clarity on whether drop boxes or satellite locations are permitted—including staffing, security, and location criteria—will help protect against illegal “ballot harvesting” by third parties and promote uniform voting security standards.[13]
  • Institute good government guardrails against private or third-party funding of election administration.
    • Private organizations provided millions of dollars in grant money directly to several local governments to administer the 2020 elections.
    • Managing elections is a core responsibility of government. Pennsylvania law should outline whether local government can accept money from corporations or nonprofits to administer elections, protecting against election interference from any political party, campaign, or special interest.
  • Pursue additional reforms utilizing Pennsylvania election data and best practices. House State Government Committee


  • House Bill 470 (Rep. Mike Carroll) is bipartisan legislation that includes several provisions outlined above. It would:
    • Move the mail-in and absentee ballot application deadline to three weeks pre-Election Day.
    • Require pre-canvassing of mail-in ballots to begin the Saturday before Election Day. Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski also intends to introduce legislation expanding pre-canvassing.
    • Reinforce the Election Day 8 p.m. mail-in ballot deadline.
    • Outline drop box requirements and address ballot remediation processes.
    • Sen. Judy Ward intends to introduce legislation similarly imposing an 8 p.m. voting deadline and ballot signature remediation procedure.
  • Rep. Dan Moul intends to introduce a mail-in voting reform package. Several notable provisions include:
    • A bill to clarify that voters must return their mail-in ballots either through USPS or in person to county elections board officials at a permanent elections office.
    • A bill maintaining the Election Day mail-in voting deadline as impervious to waivers.
    • A bill to clarify the review and verification process for signatures on mail-in and absentee ballots.
  • Polling of Pennsylvania voters show 60% of voters have confidence in election integrity, but strongly support proposed election reform proposals.[14] Notably:
    • A mail-in ballot application deadline 15 days before election: 76%.
    • A county ballot mailing deadline two weeks pre-election: 71%.
    • Allowing voters to drop off mail-in ballots at polls on Election Day: 72%.
    • Allowing pre-canvassing on the Friday before Election Day: 69%.
    • Accepting only mail-in ballots received by Election Day: 65%.

[1] Pennsylvania General Assembly, The Constitution of Pennsylvania, Article VII Elections,

[2] “Post-Elect Voter Sentiment Survey,” Bullfinch Group, commissioned by the Commonwealth Foundation. Includes 401 2020 Pennsylvania voters survey between December 15—18, 2020, with a 4.9% margin of error.

[3] Pennsylvania General Assembly, 2019 Act 77, “Analysis of Absentee/mail-in Voting, 2016—2018,” Ballotpedia,,_2016-2018.

[5] The Election Code allows a 6-day period post-election to verify ballots cast without proof of identity.

[6] “Election Reform Preliminary Report,” County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (January 2021),

[7] Pa. Democratic Party v. Boockvar, et all, No. 133 MM (2020), The case was brough by the Democratic party and officials and aligned with Wolf administration advocacy. They further ruled ballot drop boxes are legal, a practice not authorized via statute, and upheld the statutory poll watcher residency requirement as constitutional.

[8] DOS’s initial instructions were to separate and not canvass the ballots received during the extended deadline, only three days later instructing counties to canvass the segregated ballots as soon as possible, drawing the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court.

[9] In Re November 3, 2020 General Election, No. 149 MM (2020), The decision was  ultimately supported by the Court on October 23. The Court rejected Bookvar’s petitioned that “absentee and mail-in ballots and the applications for those ballots may not be challenged by third-parties based on signature comparison at any time.”

[10] A Commonwealth Court judge ruled county election boards could still count provisional ballots cast by voters who were alerted to mistakes.

[11] Currently, voters could request and submit their mail-in or absentee ballots up to 50 days before the election—a point before which ballots and candidates finalize.

[12] Current exemptions for overseas and military voters should continue, as they constitute a small voting block that will not significantly delay results.

[13] The United States Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has released a list of recommendations,

[14] “Post-Elect Voter Sentiment Survey,” Bullfinch Group, commissioned by the Commonwealth Foundation.