Election 2020

Good job, Philly: Only 1% of city mail ballots were ‘naked’

Election officials worried the rule would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters.

A committeeperson in Philadelphia created a meme Instagram account to get the message across

A committeeperson in Philadelphia created a meme Instagram account to get the message across

Instagram / @nakedballot

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Just 1.1% of the mail ballots returned by city residents arrived “naked,” disqualifying their votes. Officials had worried the naked ballot restriction could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters across the state.

The Philadelphia City Commissioners received about 4,000 ballots lacking the secrecy envelope meant to be inserted inside the outer declaration envelope, according to spokesperson Kevin Feeley.

With just over 350,000 mail ballots returned in Philly, that means only about 1 in 100 of the city’s total mail ballots had to be voided because they were packaged incorrectly.

The double-envelope rule was mandated in September, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court sided with Republicans who sued to demand that all ballots missing the inner enclosure should be thrown out.

In past elections, Pennsylvania didn’t necessarily toss ballots missing the secrecy envelope — but it also wasn’t a big issue, because not many people voted by mail. Prior to a law change this year, you needed a valid reason to vote “absentee,” like being out of town on Election Day, or in the military, or physically unable to make it to the polls.

It was always unclear exactly how many naked ballots would turn up, since this year brought in the first presidential election with no-excuse mail voting in the state.

In the 2019 general election, the City Commissions said 6% of mail ballots received were missing their secrecy envelope. If that rate held for the 2020 presidential election, more than 70,000 votes would have been deemed invalid.

When the anti-naked ballot rule first came out, Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa Deeley worried that more than 100k ballots would need to be thrown out.

“While everyone is talking about the significance of extending the mail-ballot deadline, it is the naked ballot ruling that is going to cause electoral chaos,” Lisa Deeley, chair of the Philadelphia city commissioners, wrote in a letter to state legislative leaders.

The fears inspired a huge campaign to instruct voters on the necessary envelope procedures.  Celebs from Mark Ruffalo to Amy Schumer to John Legend recorded videos reminding Pennsylvanians to use both envelopes when they cast their mail votes. Democratic committeeperson Caroline Tiger created a whole Instagram account to get the point across.

With just 4,000 of them having emerged in Philly, the folks who oversee city voting are breathing a collective sigh of relief.

“The commissioners see it as a testament,” spokesperson Feeley said, “to the success of the public awareness efforts that took place in the weeks leading up to the election.”

Want some more? Explore other Election 2020 stories.

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