Pennsylvania Abruptly Changes Voter Registration Form During Election Cycle

Local election workers and party officials were caught by surprise when Pennsylvania recently changed its voter registration form midstream. In the middle of an election cycle, forms were updated to allow voters to simultaneously sign up for mail-in ballots.

The Department of State unilaterally combined a separate pair of applications for voter registration and a mail-in ballot into one. And it’s just 11 weeks before the general election.

This change comes in a state that is already seeing a surge in Republican voter registration — far outstripping Democratic gains.

County election officials are not happy with the top-down move that came without serious consultation with those who actually implement the elections. Officials on the local level are concerned that there will be voter confusion, administrative challenges, and even legal concerns.

Bucks County Elections Director Thomas Freitag sent a letter to the Department of State decrying the move. He said it is “likely” to cause confusion and raise the level of skepticism among voters in a system that needs to “rebuild trust.”

County officials, he said, were not informed of the combining of the two forms until three weeks before the change was implemented. Freitag said there was nearly unanimous opposition to the late move, and a workgroup was thrown together to give “meaningless feedback.”

Other opponents point towards Act 77, a controversial move in 2019 that introduced “no excuse” mail-in voting to Pennsylvania. This created controversy across the state before the COVID-19 pandemic was even heard of.

The new form is also drawing criticism as it is now a two-page document. The front contains the voter registration and the back is the mail-in ballot application. The signature box is on the bottom of the back page, just below the mail-in section.

Officials believe this will create confusion among those who want to register to vote but are not interested in voting by mail.

In an election cycle as pivotal and contentious as this year’s, it’s tough to see the reasoning behind making a key change so late in the process. The goal is obviously to draw more mail-in ballots and thus voter participation, but this late in the game, it will doubtless draw litigation as well.