Thousands of Mail-in Ballots Feared Missing in Butler County, Pa., as Officials Rush to Deliver Replacements

Election officials in Butler County, Pennsylvania, said on Wednesday that many voters have yet to receive their requested mail-in ballots, with just five days remaining until Election Day.

Though election officials told local media outlets that they believe the problem is with the U.S. Postal Service's deliveries, the USPS told Newsweek that its top priority is delivering election mail promptly and said it is not aware of "significant" delivery problems in Butler County.

"Regarding mail sorting and delivery in Butler County, the Postal Service is unaware of any significant delays or issues and is in regular contact with the Board of Election as we work to locate and deliver ballots as they are presented to us," the USPS said.

Ballot Drop Box in Philadelphia
A woman deposits her ballot in an official ballot drop box at the satellite polling station outside Philadelphia City Hall on October 27. In Pennsylvania's Butler County, election officials said, many voters have yet to receive their requested mail-in ballots. Mark Makela/Getty

The county's Bureau of Elections director, Aaron Sheasely, raised the problem with requested mail-in ballots during a meeting with county commissioners on Wednesday, according to the Butler Eagle. Sheasely told commissioners that the number of affected voters was unknown, but Commissioner Leslie Osche told Spotlight PA it could be thousands.

The last day voters in Pennsylvania could request mail-in ballots was Tuesday. All mail-in ballots are required to be either postmarked or hand-delivered to election officials by 8 p.m. local time on Election Day.

More voters are expected to vote by mail this election than ever before because of the coronavirus pandemic. In Pennsylvania, more than 2.1 million voters have already returned their mail-in ballots, according to data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project. On the project's map, Butler appears as the county with the least number of mail-in ballots returned thus far, with just under a quarter of requested mail-in ballots returned to election officials by Thursday. At least half of mail-in voters in all of the state's other 66 counties returned their ballots by Thursday, the project's data showed.

Osche told KDKA-TV that county officials initially thought deliveries of mail-in ballots were simply delayed. "That could still be the case," she said. But as Election Day drew closer, county officials began to alert voters that they may have to make alternate plans to vote.

"We changed our strategy and now have begun to tell folks that if they haven't received a ballot they still have multiple options," Osche said. Those options include submitting a provisional ballot at the voter's assigned polling location on November 3 or visiting the Bureau of Elections directly, according to the station.

In a statement to Newsweek, the County of Butler Board of Commissioners said election officials received "thousands" of phone calls and emails from voters who had not yet received their ballots.

"Over the last week and a half, the Bureau of Elections has received thousands of calls and emails from voters saying they did not receive their mail-in or absentee ballots. The postal service is maintaining daily contact with our Elections Bureau and is aware of the situation," the commissioners' statement said.

The commissioners board said it can confirm that the elections bureau mailed out about 40,000 ballots and that nearly 21,300 have been returned, either by mail or by in-person delivery. "Butler County's primary focus now is on providing voters who may not have received a ballot with multiple options to obtain a ballot and vote, and on recording the ballots that have been returned, so that voters can see that their ballot was received on the votespa.com website," the statement said.

The board expects to complete the scanning to show receipted ballots in the next 48 hours, according to the statement.

The statement went on to encourage voters who have not yet received their mail-in ballots to visit the county's Bureau of Elections in person or go to their designated polling place to vote. Those who prefer to vote by mail can still do so by contacting county officials to have a replacement ballot sent to them or to have it delivered directly by a local deputy, the commissioners said.

Newsweek reached out to the Butler County Bureau of Elections for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication. Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Bookvar's office told Newsweek she will be providing an update on the election throughout the state during a news conference scheduled to begin Thursday afternoon.

Pennsylvania is one of six key swing states that are predicted to sway the outcome of the presidential election. President Donald Trump and Joe Biden have both visited the state to campaign in the past week, and state polling averages compiled by FiveThirtyEight showed Biden with a 5.2-point lead on Thursday. Though Trump won the state by a narrow margin in 2016, he took Butler County by more than 36 points.

This story was updated at 3:18 p.m. to include a statement from the County of Butler Board of Commissioners.