Fact Check-Pennsylvania Department of State says ballots were not sent to 240,000 unverified voters

Social media users are saying that 240,000 ballots have been sent to “unverified” voters in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of State issued the statement that “there are not 240,000 ‘unverified ballots,’ as certain lawmakers are claiming” and calling the allegation “misinformation”.

The claims originate in a letter sent by Pennsylvania state representatives to the acting secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Leigh Chapman (here). In the letter, Republican representatives write, “as of October 21, 2022, records of 2022 Mail Ballot Data shows that counties have already mailed over 240,000 unverified ballots.” 

A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of State said via email that, “The department believes the reference to 240,000 unverified ballots is the result of misunderstandings of the law, the department’s data, and the counties’ workflow.” 

A separate statement from the Pennsylvania Department of State added that as of Thursday, “there are only about 7,600 ballot applications statewide whose voters’ identification have not yet been verified.”

The office of Representative Francis X. Ryan, one of the authors of the letter sent to Chapman, emailed Reuters a statement regarding the allegation in the letter, saying, “The purpose of the letter was to make sure the county election officials had consistent guidance and understood their responsibilities to verify the ballots.” The statement added that an “unauthorized ballot” is any ballot that could be later found out to be “not for a bona fide elector.”

The letter from Pennsylvania state representatives defines an “unverified ballot” as a ballot sent to a voter who has not provided state identification or the last four digits of their social security number to verify their identity (here.)

In a statement to Reuters and a letter to Ryan, Pennsylvania officials explained that most ballot applications are automatically verified by cross-reference with the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE). In some circumstances, applications require further identity verification, and as of Oct. 28, there were about 7,600 such applications. While the law requires the state to mail ballots for which identity verification is incomplete, these cannot be included in the final vote count if they remain unverified.

In a letter sent to Rep. Ryan and dated Oct. 28 (here), Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman wrote in response to the legislator’s original letter that, “your claim that counties have mailed ‘over 240,000 unverified ballots’ is incorrect and reflects a misunderstanding of the law and data.”

Chapman goes on in the letter to explain (page 2), assuming that Ryan is referring to a daily report of ballot applications received, that a “NV” code, standing for “not verified,” refers to applications that “require further identification check.” Chapman adds, “Notably, the code does not reflect the results of any identification check but is, in fact, an additional mechanism to ensure that counties are properly verifying ID provided by voters.”

Chapman also wrote, “Finally, in contrast to the assertions in your letter, as of today, there are less than 7,600 ballot applications statewide that still require voter identity verification as provided by law.”

To submit an application for an absentee or mail-in ballot in Pennsylvania, an individual must already be registered to vote by having submitted an application that includes their state ID or last four digits of their social security number (here).

If voters wish to receive a mail-in or absentee ballot, they must fill out a separate form that again asks for identifying information (here).

According to the statement by the Pennsylvania Department of State, county elections offices are legally obligated by Pennsylvania election code to provide mail-in or absentee ballots to any registered voter who applies for one, even if they don’t provide proof of identification when they apply. Most applicants verify their identity at that time, but they have until the sixth day after the election to verify their identity (here).

The Department’s statement added that unverified ballots are marked as such and any ballots that cannot be verified by the sixth day after the election are not counted.

Chapman’s Oct. 28 letter to Rep. Ryan points out that the Pennsylvania’s Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors “has a hard-stop function that will not allow a ballot from a voter without verified identification to be counted.”

Social media users have spread false information about the 240,000 unauthorized ballots. One user whose tweet received over 17,000 likes and 12,000 retweets at the time of writing said, “BREAKING: Pennsylvania Democrat officials mailed out 240,000 Ballots to unverified voters. They are cheating again. Spread the word!” (here) Facebook users also shared the claims (here), (here), (here).

Note: Updated on Nov. 2 to add details from letter by Acting Secretary of State Chapman to Rep. Ryan.


Missing Context. The Pennsylvania Department of State issued a statement saying that 240,000 unverified ballots were not sent to voters. The current estimate by the Department is that there are 7,600 ballot applications for which voters have not yet verified their identity. Voters have up to six days after the election to verify their ballot, or the ballot is not counted.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here.