Mail-in ballot applications cause confusion for Schuylkill County resident

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MCADOO, SCHUYLKILL COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — With the general election just three weeks away from Tuesday, many voters are left frustrated and confused by mail-in ballot applications they’ve been receiving in the mail, specifically those from third-party groups.

Eyewitness News spoke with Tom Lopach, the president and CEO of Center for Voter Information, one of the largest companies that sends out mail-in ballot applications. Lopach insists that the bottom line is to make it easier for people to vote.

Sandra Orem, who lives near McAdoo says she can’t understand why she has been receiving so many applications.

“I for one do not vote by mail. I vote, I help at the polls. I just don’t understand as I said before wherever this company is they didn’t only send me one they didn’t only send me two I received five,” Orem, of Kline Township, said.

Orem is not alone with her concerns. She says she is also concerned by the fact that some of the applications have Kline Township for their address while others say McAdoo which borders the other in Northern Schuylkill County.

“With everybody talking about fraud and everything, et cetera, my concern is who is this and what are they doing with this information,” Orem said.

Orem’s mail-in ballot applications are coming from the non-profit Center for Voter information which says they focus their efforts on outreach to get people voting.

“It’s been proven that multiple waves of mail have an additive impact on recipients so we know that if somebody ignores the first wave or the second wave of mail they may well fill out the third wave and send it back,” Lopach said.

Lopach insists that the company is all about making it easier to vote, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says they use only public information about voters.

“For our vote by mail program we use the state voter file to send registered voters vote by mail applications and only send to people who are already registered to vote,” Lopach said.

Those applications are sent to the county bureau of election in which that voter resides.

Eyewitness News is still trying to determine why some of Orem’s mail had different communities on the applications she received. We reached out to the Schuylkill County Elections Bureau for answers as well as the post office but have not yet had a response.

A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of State tells Eyewitness News it is not illegal for third-party groups to send out mail-in ballot applications.

They have issued the following statement:

The Department of State supports any efforts to encourage participation among eligible voters. Still, we urge registered voters to use the Department’s online ballot application at www.votesPA.com.

The online application is faster and more secure. It eliminates mailing time by instantly forwarding the application to the proper county election office. The electronic application also saves significant amounts of time and labor for county election offices that process the applications.

Such mailings from outside organizations or political parties are confusing to people, some of whom think they are receiving a ballot, when they are actually receiving an application.  In the past, it was common for various organizations to mail voter-registration applications, but this year we are finding that the organizations are mailing ballot applications instead. Typically, the applications are pre-addressed to the recipient’s county election office, so that recipient can easily mail the application to the correct county address if they want to apply.

It is legal for organizations and outside entities to provide ballot applications.  Organizations do not need to register, nor do they need our permission, to mail things such as mail-ballot applications or voter-registration applications. Some outside organizations submit their mailings to us in advance to ensure accuracy, but some do not, and it is not required.

These mailings might include a valid application for a mail-in ballot, but if voters want to be sure, they can compare any such mailing to the paper application found here on our website:

https://www.votespa.com/Register-to-Vote/Documents/PADOS_MailInApplication.pdf

It is important to note that, regardless of the extent of any mass mailing, each application submitted for a mail-in or absentee ballot will be subject to the normal processes that county election offices carry out to verify the applicant’s eligibility.

Also, we have heard a few reports of deceased individuals receiving the applications. This indicates the organization is using outdated voter lists. If an application were submitted from someone who has been removed from the voter roll – because they died or moved to a new address, for example – that would be discovered when the county election office processes the application.

Wanda Murren | Director of the Office of Communications and Press for the PA Department of State

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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