Sec. Schmidt answers voting questions ahead of the Nov. 7 general election

With the general election weeks away, Secretary of State Al Schmidt took questions from reporters on Thursday about mail-in ballots, automatic voter registration, and ballot curing. 

Here’s what Schmidt had to say: 

Editor’s note: The conversations have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q: If voters are sending in their mail ballot, what has to be on that mail envelope in order to make sure it counts? 

Schmidt: I don’t want voters to have the impression that voting by mail is a complicated process. It is not. There are instructions that lay out what is required — a couple of those things are required for the ballot to be returned in the secrecy envelope, and the secrecy envelope to be returned in a declaration envelope. 

So, you put your ballot in a secrecy envelope that’s clearly marked, you put that in the declaration envelope, and the voter signs and dates the [declaration envelope], the law says, as written, that the [declaration envelope] should be signed and dated by the voter.

Q: Could you provide a partisan breakdown for the new AVR (automatic voter registration) registrations, and then also how many of the mailing ballots that folks had applied for and received back?

Schmidt: For partisan breakdown, I don’t have that yet. I only have new registration figures. 

I mean, for us, obviously, the most important thing is to make sure eligible voters can register to vote. It takes considerable work to get to those numbers. If you think about it, these are applications that come from PennDOT out to 67 counties, get processed by 67 counties. And then for us to query those applications after they’ve gone through that whole system to see whether they are new, whether they’re change of address, change of name, change of party, or anything else. 

So at this point, I only have new registration figures because that’s certainly our focus and most important thing. Schmidt added that the most important thing is that eligible voters, regardless of how they registered, actually do vote. The administration’s implementation of automatic voter registration “will, as we’ve seen already, have a significant impact in registering eligible voters.”

Q: And the number of completed, returned mail-in ballots?

Schmidt: … I think they’re between maybe 10 and 15% at this point, but most mail-in ballots really only go out in, let’s say 30 days before Election Day. And most are returned in the week or so leading up to the election. So regardless of when ballots come out, they all tend to come back in the lead-up to the election, so I wouldn’t be alarmed by that figure.

Q: How confident are you that the counties will uniformly handle the ballot curing process?

Schmidt: So every county in Pennsylvania follows the same election code. But there’s a lot of flexibility since elections are really run at the county level in Pennsylvania, for counties to determine in working with their city solicitor and their board of elections, how to administer that election. And some of that is for good reason. The challenges you face in Philadelphia County are considerably different than the challenges you face in Elk County, Juniata County or some other. So, that flexibility is there for a reason. 

But what we want to avoid are situations where a type of ballot is counted in one county, and that same ballot is not counted in some other county. We want as much uniformity as possible when it comes to what ballots are counted and what aren’t counted.

The Department of State provides directives when it can to instruct counties on how to best handle the counting of ballots, and what processes they need to take in order to process those ballots. But the Board of Elections, in working with their county solicitors, do make decisions at the county level that might come to a different conclusion than some other county. So, it’s important that we do whatever we can to promote as much uniformity as we possibly can, but still allow counties the flexibility that they need to do what’s best for their voters in their counties.

If you have questions about the election or voting process, submit them here or send them to [email protected] with the subject “election mail.”

Then, check back here each week for the answers.

Editor’s note: After this article was published, Sec. Schmidt reached out to the Capital-Star to clarify that he misspoke during Thursday’s press conference. Voters should sign and date their declaration envelope when voting by mail. This article was updated at 12:38 p.m. Oct. 20, 2023 with the correct information. 

Originally published at,by Cassie Miller

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