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Making Sure Every Vote Counts In A Swing State

Free and fair elections mean that everyone can vote and every vote is counted. But voting laws aren’t always that simple to implement. Take Pennsylvania for example. Due to ambiguous laws, and incomplete guidance from state officials, Bucks County election officials had some uncertainty about exactly which votes should count.

Amy Fitzpatrick is a Public Rights Project Affirmative Leaders Fellow and First Assistant County Solicitor for Bucks County. She was concerned when Department of State guidance seemed to conflict with federal law aimed at protecting elderly and disabled voters.

An antiquated state law generally prohibits people from depositing ballots of other voters in either a mailbox or dropbox. Guidance from the Pennsylvania Secretary of State provided that ballots could be delivered by a designated agent so long as the voters resided in the same “household.” In a modern context of congregate housing, Fitzpatrick wasn't sure how the county could comply with this guidance without violating federal law and other commands under state law to answer the will of the voters.

"Medicaid and Moore v. Harper: Two issues that dominated North Carolina politics in 2022." - NC Policy Watch, December 2022
North Carolina legislators essentially asked the court to grant them unfettered power on voting and election rules — with no regard for state constitutional limits. Read PRP's amicus brief in Moore v. Harper.

And the stakes were high. At the time, the state representative race was close; the two candidates were separated by a few votes, so the decision to count or discard these ballots could have swung an election and, potentially, control of the state house.

So Fitzpatrick called Public Rights Project to get some technical assistance. Just what were her legal options when it came to counting these ballots?

After presenting PRP’s findings and an extensive factual investigation, the Elections Board followed Fitzpatrick’s legal advice and decided to count the votes, winning a vital battle against voter disenfranchisement.

Ultimately, some of the most meaningful protections to voter access are arming local officials like Fitzpatrick with the resources they need to protect the rights of their constituents. Each individual case might involve dozens or hundreds of votes, but together they can impact election outcomes and uphold the will of the voters.

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