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Pennsylvania voters describe irregularities in mail-in, absentee ballot process

Voters received mail-in ballots when they didn't request them; some had to cast provisional ballots.

Updated: November 18, 2020 - 8:27am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The U.S. saw record numbers of mail-in votes cast in the 2020 election, driven largely by voter concerns that crowded polling places and long lines could act as major spreading centers for COVID-19. 

Activists and public officials in the months leading up to the Nov. 3 election launched major informational campaigns and voting drives to help as many people as possible vote via mail. A reported 65 million ballots were cast by mail in the 2020 election, far outstripping earlier years. 

Along with that major shift in voting methods came the predictable headaches associated with moving a huge percentage of voters over to voting-by-mail, including numerous reports of voters receiving multiple mail-in ballots — in some cases even when none was requested — as well as voters not receiving requested ballots in time for the election. 

Voting irregularities in the key battleground state of Pennsylvania — where Joe Biden leads President Trump by just over 1% — have reportedly been widespread. Matt Braynard, former Trump Campaign Director of Data and Strategy and presently the leader of the Voter Integrity Project, reported this week and confirmed to Just the News on Tuesday that the Voter Integrity Project had reached hundreds of voters who experienced issues with their mail-in ballots. 

"Among 1706 respondents we reached whom the state said were sent an absentee ballot, 556 said they never requested it," Braynard said this week.

"And of the 1137 who did request the ballot, 453 said they mailed back yet the state did not receive or count them," he added.

'It is still in the sealed envelope' 

In interviews with Just the News, individual voters have reported experiencing multiple irregularities in the state's mail-in ballot process, including receiving mail ballots when they didn't request them and, in some cases, being required to vote with provisional ballots when showing up at polling stations.

Among the voters who found themselves in the midst of the widespread confusion was Kory Kunkle, a 45-year-old voter near Pittsburgh, Pa. 

"For the primary election, when COVID started, I had requested a mail-in ballot," Kunkle told Just the News. "I didn't know how bad it was going to be. I didn't know if the polls were going to be open." 

Pennsylvania allows voters to sign up for mail-in voting for a general election when they sign up to vote in a primary. Kunkle, however, said he never asked for a general election mail-in ballot, yet he still received one anyway. 

When Kunkle showed up at his voting station, he was not allowed to vote on the machine, and was told he had to file a provisional vote.

Kunkle provided Just the News with personal information to check his mail-in voting status on the Pennsylvania state website. That website lists his ballot status as "pending."  

Timothy Sirk, who lives in York County, Pa., also said he received a mail-in ballot he never requested. On Election Day, he went to his polling center and was told he was on the rolls as a mail-in voter. He was subsequently directed to vote with a provisional ballot. 

"I want to know what happened here," Sirk told Just the News. "I don't care if you are a Democrat or Republican as long as the votes are counted fairly." 

Some Pennsylvania voters who spoke to Just the News said they applied for mail-in votes and sent them in, but when they checked online to see if their votes were counted, they were shocked two weeks later that their vote is still pending. 

Diane Doyle, her husband and daughter chose to vote by mail for the general election, and she mailed all three ballots on Oct. 12. Her husband and daughter's vote were processed on Oct. 26, but Diane's vote is still "pending" as of Nov. 16. 

Nicholas Boutin, who lives in Philadelphia, requested a mail-in ballot for the general election but subsequently received two ballots. He eventually elected to vote in person, where he was required to do so by provisional ballot. 

'Many' voters who showed up 'had never requested' mail-in ballots

Linda Ebert told Just the News that she and her son have been working the polls in Luzerne County, Pa. for around 10-15 years. They had previously been registered Democrats, but five years ago, they changed their party registration to Republican. 

This year Linda was a minority inspector at the polls, and her son served as an election judge. They did not request mail-in ballots but still received them in the mail.

Ebert, who claimed that the mis-mailed ballots constituted "fraud," said: "I want those who requested our mail-in ballots and mailed them to us to be prosecuted."

Ebert, who is 77, worked the polls from 5:30 a.m.-9 p.m. She said she witnessed numerous voters with similar experiences throughout the day.

"Voters were showing up very confused because many of them received mail-in ballots and they too had never requested them," she said. 

Ebert said she marked them "void" and allowed the voters to cast their votes. 

Robert Wolfe, who lives near Pittsburgh, said he received two mail-in ballots that he never requested. He threw them away and showed up at his polling center, and was told he had to vote provisionally because he was on the rolls as a mail-in voter. 

"I told them that was nonsense and that I never requested a mail-in vote," Wolfe told Just the News. "I'm checking to see if my vote was counted, and it still reads 'pending.'"

The Pennsylvania Secretary of State's office did not respond to a query asking what the status of "pending" signifies for a mail-in vote in the state system.

Douglas Woods, who lives in the northeast section of Philadelphia, said he requested a mail-in for the Pennsylvania primary, but never requested one for the general election; nevertheless, he received one. He told Just the News he always intended to vote in person for the general election. 

When he arrived at his voting center with the mail-in ballot, the election official marked it "spoiled," and he was told he had to vote provisionally and was not allowed to vote in the booth. 

"My voting rights have been violated," says Woods. "I keep looking online to see if my vote has been counted. All it tells me is that it has not been found and to look back 3-7 days after the election. It is now November 16. This is a scam."