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Edward B. Foley
Free & Fair is a collection of writings by Edward B. Foley, one of the nation's preeminent experts on election law.

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Close Scrutiny of Ballots in Pennsylvania

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November 22, 2006

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that, because control of the state’s House of Representatives hinges on the outcome of two races in Chester County, the local elections board is reviewing challenges presented to specific absentee or provisional ballots.

According to the article, Republicans challenged one ballot because it was signed “J.D. Muhly,” although the voter was registered as “James D. Muhly,” and challenged another because election workers had failed to stamp the date on which it had arrived by mail. The Republicans challenged a third because the envelope in which it had been mailed had been partially ripped during its delivery.

A separate story had the Republicans challenging ballot for the failure to include a middle initial. In most discussions over identification matching protocols, it is assumed that a procedural error occurs when there is a failure to make a positive match for lack of a middle initial, or similar variation in two different entries of the same individual’s name. As long as the available evidence demonstrates that the individual is indeed the same person, and there are no other grounds for disqualifying the individual as a voter (e.g., non-citizenship, felon status), the individual is generally thought to be a valid voter. It would be a noteworthy development if Pennsylvania law ruled a ballot cast by an otherwise eligible voter to be uncountable in this circumstance.

According to another account of the board’s proceedings, in the race for the 156th District, where the two candidates are separated by only 19 votes, a total of 19 ballots—coincidentally or not—will be challenged: 14 yesterday (7 by each party), with 5 more challenges by Republicans scheduled for today.

About 300 other unchallenged ballots remain to be counted in the race.