Less than two months before the 2020 general election, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that election officials must reject mail-in ballots received without the “secrecy sleeve,” the inner envelope that holds the ballot and protects the voter’s privacy while their personal identifying information and signature is being examined. Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa Deeley warned that the state supreme court’s ruling could lead to the rejection of around 100,000 additional absentee votes in the 2020 general election—a staggering number that could potentially impact the outcome of the presidential election. Ultimately, perhaps due to greater awareness brought to the issue by Deeley’s warning and public education campaigns, only 7,411 absentee votes were rejected in Pennsylvania for any reason, including for lack of a secrecy sleeve. The following analysis summarizes the secrecy sleeve rules in Pennsylvania and 16 other states that used secrecy sleeves in the 2020 general election, as well as a few states that left the use of secrecy sleeves up to counties. It also examines the impact of those rules on ballot rejection rates in the 2020 general election.
Authors: Axel Hufford, Ashley Richards, Lane Baker, Neil Wary, and Jesse Lazarus