Just two weeks before the election, several members of Penn Democrats discovered that a significant portion of the students who had registered to vote on-campus had not received their mail-in ballots because they had been misdelivered to Penn's college house mailrooms.
Many of the mail-in ballots of students who registered to vote with on-campus addresses, but requested their ballots to be sent elsewhere, were misdelivered. Michael Nevett, a College junior and the group’s political director, told The Daily Pennsylvanian that The Harnwell College House mailroom estimates at least 200 ballots were mailed erroneously by the city and sent to the voter’s on-campus voting address, rather than their mailing address.
The University reports that the ballots are no longer being held and are now “given the highest priority in the mail forwarding process.”
Penn Business Services Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger confirmed that there have been 200 ballots received to date.
“Generally, we forward mail for six months after students have moved out of campus housing. but in the case of ballots, we are forwarding all for which we have addresses. We are forwarding them as quickly as possible in the interest of time,” Lea-Kruger wrote in a statement emailed to the DP.
Lea-Kruger added that the University “will make arrangements” for the students living nearby that asked to pick up their ballots to do so, if the University has not already forwarded them via USPS.
College sophomore and Penn Dems member Madeline Salwen first discovered the issue when she began to grow concerned that she had not yet received her mail-in ballot over a month after requesting it, though many of her peers had already gotten theirs.
The mail-in ballot form includes the address that the voter is registered at, as well as a section devoted to the address where the voter would like the ballot mailed. Salwen says that she filled the form out correctly to be mailed to her current address in Washington D.C., but checked in with the Kings Court House Dean Krimo Bokreta, asking see if her ballot was sent there, her registration address, by mistake.
Since Kings Court is now closed, Bokreta told Salwen that mail was being diverted to Hill College House. A few days later, Penn told Salwen that her mail-in ballot was finally received by Hill.
Salwen said that while she was personally notified of her ballot arriving in a Penn mailroom, she is not sure that this is true of all students that this issue may have affected.
“[Penn] did contact me, I think, because I was very much on their radar. I had contacted them repeatedly, asking if anyone had received my ballot,” Salwen said. “An employee at Hill told me that they were calling or emailing students when they had received [the students’] mail-in ballots, but I don't really think this is true because I know a lot of people who have since found out their ballot is in Hill, but they never got an email or anything.”
Salwen said that the added layer of confusion of the delivery mishap diminishes the accessibility of the voting process.
“I think that the harm of this experience is that voting is meant to be something that's very easy and accessible for voters, and this definitely does not make it quite as accessible.” Salwen said. “I do think this could be a city wide problem. I’m just really hoping people care enough about the election to rectify any mistakes that were made with the mail-in ballots.”
Nevett, whose ballot was mistakenly delivered to Harnwell College House instead of his home in Maryland, also eventually received his ballot forwarded from the school. He thinks now that more students becoming aware of this issue, many living nearby Penn’s campus have been able to retrieve their ballots, but are upset they did not receive more proactive communication from the University.
“It seems like when people are there [in the Penn mailrooms,] they're willing to give them out. But it's not like they've done any sort of like proactive outreach,” Nevett said.
To counter any confusion for students that this may have affected, Penn Dems hosted a text bank on Oct. 20 to reach out to and inform Penn voters who were registered on campus about the delivery mishap.
Penn Dems volunteers asked students if they have received their ballots yet, and if they haven’t, volunteers informed those living far from campus that they should request a replacement ballot quickly to ensure it would be delivered on time.
“This blunder is just the latest example in a pattern of voter suppression against young people and working people. We’ve all jumped through hoops to make sure we’re registered and to make sure that we get mailed absentee ballots. We’re now being forced to jump through hoops to access ballots addressed to us,” Nevett said. “We must have transparency and accountability by all involved.”