Here in Pittsburgh, voting by mail in 2020 and in this year's primary was smooth for me. Ballots were mailed in time, the process was smooth, tracking worked. Naturally I assumed that for the minor off-year election today, the same would be true. Boy was I wrong.
My ballot was spoiled on arrival. It had my name printed on it (uh, secret ballot anyone?) along with a bar code. (Photo at end of post.) It was printed across part of the ballot, obscuring some candidate names. There were no return envelopes, neither the secrecy envelope nor the outer one with identifying info (the one you mail). Just this misprinted ballot in an envelope sent to me.
I visited the URL printed on that envelope and submitted a support ticket. Crickets. Later I called the phone number listed there. When I finally reached a human, the person said "oh you've reached the state; you need your county". So I tried to track them down. No luck.
It was now a week before the election. No time for a replacement ballot to arrive and be received back. I looked up how to vote in person (and confirmed their Covid protocols).
I want to interject that the people at my polling place today were great. This isn't their fault. They did everything they could to deal with this problem not of their making.
I learned this morning that this ballot misprinting happened to other people too. Mine was the first case in my precinct at my polling place, so they had to look up the instructions for handling a surrendered mail-in ballot. I had brought everything I received, as instructed. I filled out the form. Then they saw in their documentation that I had to hand over the ballot and the two return envelopes. The return envelopes I never got. We all agreed that my name being printed right on the ballot ought to confirm my ID for validation purposes (that's why they want the outer envelope, where my name should have been printed), but we didn't feel safe relying on logic. This is government, after all.
They offered to escalate so I could vote now but said that could take a while -- how long could I wait? I was on my way to work (I now go to the office one day a week). Fortunately my workplace is flexible that way, but I still didn't have another hour to spend on this at the time. I considered leaving and coming back after work, but figured anybody who could help worked 9-4 or something like that and wouldn't be available anyway.
So I cast a provisional ballot. I'm assured it will be counted some days hence. I have a tracking number. This still feels very wrong.
Even though my vote will probably be counted, even though it probably doesn't make a difference this time, I feel disenfranchised. What happens in the mid-terms next year when people are more motivated to place hurdles in front of voters? What happens to voters who are likely targets (like immigrants) or have mobility challenges or who lack confidence in standing up for their rights? I'm a white professional in the heart of a very blue city (albeit in a purple state) who had the time and perseverance to try to chase this down after the bad ballot arrived. I have way more advantages than many, and I failed. What hope did others have?
The problem wasn't at the state level where most of the attention is, and it wasn't actual election tampering as far as I can tell. It was an error made by the county that affected an unknown number of people. Nobody's watching counties in all the election shenanigans. I'm in Allegheny County, not voter-suppression-ville. This was an accident, but I couldn't get it corrected.