York County woman joins ACLU lawsuit over Pa. absentee ballot deadlines

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
FILE - In this July 14, 2018, file photo, computer mouse pads with Secure the Vote logo on them are seen on a vendor's table at a convention of state secretaries of state in Philadelphia. As alarms blare about Russian interference in U.S. elections, the Trump administration is facing criticism that it has no clear national strategy to protect the country during the upcoming midterms and beyond. Both Republicans and Democrats have criticized the administration’s response as fragmented, without enough coordination across federal agencies. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and nine individuals are suing Gov. Tom Wolf and other high-ranking government officials over the state's absentee ballot deadline requirements, and one plaintiff is a woman from York County.

The ACLU issued a news release Tuesday, Nov. 13, announcing the lawsuit alleging the state's absentee ballot deadlines "are in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution’s guarantees of 'free and equal' elections and equal protection under the law."

The plaintiffs are represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights organization; the ACLU; the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project; and other attorneys.

About absentee ballots: Absentee ballots are typically used by voters who are unable to be present at the polls on Election Day.

Under state law, voters must submit absentee ballot applications by the end of October, and once receiving the ballot they must return it to their respective county offices no later than 5 p.m. the Friday before Election Day.

This year, the application deadline was Oct. 30, and the submission deadline was Nov. 2. In recent elections, the Department of State has also been issuing news releases urging voters to apply before the deadline, spokeswoman Wanda Murren said.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs, who range from out-of-state students to traveling professionals across the state, allege they filed their applications by the Oct. 30 deadline but didn't receive the ballots in time to mail them in by Nov. 2.

As a result, they weren't able to vote in this year's midterm elections — a problem that isn't new to the state.

In August, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the state rejected more than 2,000 absentee ballots in the 2014 election, 86 percent of them because they missed the return deadline.

Kenedy Kieffer, of Dillsburg, is one of nine other plaintiffs involved in a lawsuit against Pennsylvania for its "unconstitutional" absentee ballot deadlines.

York County plaintiff: Kenedy Kieffer, a 23-year-old Dillsburg native, is one of the individuals hoping to prevent the deadline issue going forward.

Kieffer moved to South Dakota in July to attend graduate school at the University of Sioux Falls, but she is still registered to vote in York County.

The young voter, who said she has always been interested in politics, said she filled out and mailed her application for an absentee ballot in mid-October so she wouldn't have to drive the more than 1,200 miles back to her hometown to vote at the polls.

But after checking her mailbox every day afterward, she said, she didn't receive the ballot until roughly 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2 — just two hours before the deadline.

Kieffer said she voted in the 2016 presidential elections without a problem, and this election was even more important to her because it came roughly 100 years after the introduction of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

The York County native said she was restricted in what she could say because of the ongoing legal case, but she made it clear this election was important, especially given the circumstances.

"That was a big motivator for me," she said. "Having a system where we can vote and it will count — hopefully — is a practical way I can influence what's around me. This was an election I cared about, and I cared whether my vote was going to the right place."

But after calling the York County Office of Voting & Elections, she was told she wouldn't be able to have the special moment she wanted.

Hotline: After seeing other problems at the polls being reported in the news, she reported the matter to the Election Protection hotline run by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, she said.

That same day, the organization asked her to jump onto the lawsuit, and Kieffer said she didn't hesitate to offer help to prevent such events from happening again.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU and other plaintiffs demand that Wolf and the following individuals overturn the "unreasonably early deadline" and change it to a later date: Secretary of State Robert Torres; Commissioner of the Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation Jonathan Marks; Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati; and House Speaker Mike Turzai.

Wolf's office didn't respond to phone calls and email inquiries on Wednesday, but the Department of State released the following statement Tuesday:

"The Department of State and all county election boards in Pennsylvania are bound by the civilian absentee ballot deadlines set in the PA Election Code," it reads. "That is why the Wolf administration earlier this year proposed a series of reforms to make voting more convenient, including modernizing absentee voting and the deadline."

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.