Democrats in Pa. scramble to limit number of ‘naked ballots’

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This May 26, 2020 file photo shows an Official Democratic General Primary mail-in ballot and secrecy envelope, for the Pennsylvania primary in Pittsburgh. Philadelphia’s top elections official is warning of electoral chaos in the presidential battleground state if lawmakers there do not remove a provision in Pennsylvania law that, under a days-old court decision, requires counties to throw out mail-in ballots returned without secrecy envelopes. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar/File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Democrats are launching a digital ad targeting Pennsylvanians voting by mail to explain how to correctly fill out and return the ballots, hoping to avert worried predictions that 100,000 votes or more could be invalidated because the ballots aren’t put in the proper envelope.

The so-called naked ballots have become a huge concern for Democrats in the state since the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last week that ballots had to be rejected if not enclosed in the proper secrecy envelope. The ruling was a victory for President Donald Trump’s campaign in the battleground state.

Democrats so far have been far more likely than Republicans to request mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania and the rest of the country. Trump won Pennsylvania by a mere 44,000 votes in 2016, and polls show a close race between Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

A 30-second digital ad released Thursday walks voters through the process of correctly filling out and returning a Pennsylvania absentee ballot. The June primary was the first election with widespread mail voting in the state and most voters have little experience with the method.

“Remember, you must place the ballot in the secrecy envelope first for your vote to count,” the ad’s male narrator says. After walking voters through a four-step process, he closes by saying: “That’s all there is.”

The ad is aimed at voters who have already requested a mail-in ballot.

“With vote-by-mail requests surging, it’s important that every voter using a mail ballot for the first time has all the information they need so that their ballot will be counted, including the importance of sealing their ballot in the secrecy envelope,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.

Counties are just starting to send out mail-in and absentee ballots to voters.

On Thursday, Pennsylvania’s second-most populous county, Allegheny County, which is home to Pittsburgh, said it has begun to send out ballot packets, delivering approximately 70,000 ballots over the last 24 hours to the post office for mailing.

Former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson said naked ballots are just one of the ways people can “mess up” their absentee or mail-in ballot.

“They’re especially tough in environments where you abruptly shift to vote by mail,” Grayson said. “The campaigns can play a great role here. There are some voter education things they can do.”

He said the voters who are most likely to make the error are infrequent voters who may be hard to reach. “They’re probably not reading the Philadelphia Inquirer or the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but maybe they see the digital ad in their Facebook feed,” Grayson said.

Andrew McCutchen, the Philadelphia Phillies star outfielder, was on a Zoom call Thursday filming a nonpartisan public service announcement about how to correctly fill out a mail-in ballot, with an emphasis on secrecy envelopes.

In it, McCutchen is surrounded by cardboard cutouts of people to mimic the cardboard cutouts of fans in baseball stands this year. He says: “Then comes my favorite part, the secrecy envelope. That’s the envelope you put your ballot in. … Then you put that secrecy envelope inside the big envelope.”

The hope is that the PSA is available beginning in October through news organization websites, the Philadelphia Phillies, Major League Baseball and others, said John Fuller, McCutchen’s publicist.

It is to include cameos by other well-known Pennsylvanians, Fuller said.

The Democratic Party said it and the Biden campaign will also engage in additional outreach, including videos of various political leaders correctly filling out a mail-in ballot, to combat the problem.

Philadelphia’s top elections official, a Democrat, this week warned of “electoral chaos” in Pennsylvania if the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature does not clarify state law to allow counties to count mail-in ballots returned without secrecy envelopes.

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Riccardi reported from Denver.

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This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of McCutchen’s last name.

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AP’s Advance Voting guide brings you the facts about voting early, by mail or absentee from each state: https://interactives.ap.org/advance-voting-2020/

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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