Fact-Checking Pennsylvania-Related Election Claims

We are committed to providing accurate, trustworthy information about election administration in Pennsylvania and to combatting damaging misinformation and disinformation about our elections. 

Pennsylvania did NOT register hundreds of thousands of new voters without photo ID in the first three months of 2024. 

The short answer:

The Help America Vote Verification (HAVV) data cited in an April 2024 viral social media post does NOT represent the number of newly registered voters in Pennsylvania, and any claim to the contrary is false. 

That HAVV data represents the total number of transactions that Pennsylvania’s 67 counties sent for Social Security number (SSN) verification for multiple purposes, not only for voter registration. 

The Pennsylvania Department of State uses HAVV to check partial SSNs not only for voter registration applications, but also for absentee and mail ballot applications. In many cases, a voter’s partial SSN is checked multiple times in a single year.

As of April 3, 2024, there were approximately 75,000 new voter registrations in 2024. That correct number is publicly available through our website.

For additional context, voter registration activity historically increases in presidential election years, such as 2024, when compared with other election cycles. For comparison, there were approximately 100,000 new voter registrations during the same period in 2020, and nearly 150,000 new registrations during that period in 2016. ​

Only U.S. citizens can register to vote through Pennsylvania’s automatic voter registration (AVR) process. Noncitizens may not legally register to vote in Pennsylvania and cannot register through the AVR process.

The short answer:

To be eligible to register to vote in Pennsylvania, applicants must be: 

  • a U.S. citizen for at least 30 days,  
  • a resident of Pennsylvania for at least 30 days, and  
  • at least 18 years old on or before the date of the next election. ​

When Pennsylvania residents go to Department of Transportation (PennDOT) centers to obtain a new or renewed state ID, only those residents who meet all three of the above criteria are presented with the automatic voter registration (AVR) screens. Individuals who do not provide proof of U.S. citizenship are not presented with the AVR screens and are therefore, never given the opportunity to apply to register to vote.

Pennsylvania’s AVR process has built-in protections that enable only U.S. citizens to apply to register to vote.

When Pennsylvanians visit a PennDOT driver or photo license center to apply for a driver’s license or other state ID, they must provide documentation that proves their age, residency, and citizenship – all requirements needed to determine if a person is eligible to register to vote in Pennsylvania. 

If the applicant is at least 18 years old on or before the date of the next election, has been a resident of Pennsylvania for at least 30 days, and has been a U.S. citizen for at least 30 days, they are automatically presented with the AVR screens unless they decline to apply to register. 

Additionally, once an applicant goes through the AVR process, their application is sent to the elections office in the county where they live, and that county elections office once again reviews the applicant’s eligibility before the applicant is officially registered to vote.

Poll watchers in Pennsylvania may not handle ballots at any time.

Poll workers are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity on Election Day.

The short answer:

The Pennsylvania Election Code clearly describes what poll watchers and authorized representatives can do; they are not allowed to handle ballots. Detailed information on what poll watchers can and cannot do is available via the Pennsylvania Department of State's guidance for poll watchers and authorized representatives.

Poll watchers and poll workers fulfill entirely separate roles on election day. 

Except for voters in the process of voting their own ballot, only duly elected or appointed poll workers are allowed to handle ballots at the polling place. These poll workers swear an oath to "impartially and faithfully perform [their] duties" prior to serving in their role. Poll workers are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity on Election Day.

Those who step up to serve in these important poll worker roles know firsthand that the process of voting in Pennsylvania is free, fair, safe, and secure. Pennsylvania voters should have confidence that their ballot will not be manipulated by those with partisan interests.

Poll watchers, on the other hand, are appointed by candidates appearing on the ballot. A poll watcher must:

  • be a qualified registered elector of the county where their appointed polling place is located.
  • be identified and receive official county credentials in advance; and
  • be assigned to specific precincts.

To learn more about poll watchers’ roles, see our guidance for poll watchers and authorized representatives page.

Claims that there were “more votes than voters” in Pennsylvania in the 2020 general election are false.

The short answer:

Official public documents from the Department of State show that 6,945,045 registered voters successfully cast a ballot in Pennsylvania’s November 2020 election and that a total of 6,915,283 votes were recorded as cast in the presidential election. These two data points clearly show that there were not “more votes than voters” in the 2020 general election.

The November 2020 election was free, fair, safe, and secure. Claims of systemic voter fraud are devoid of any supporting evidence and have consistently been rejected by judges, government agencies, and election experts across the political spectrum. 

On Nov. 24, 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of State officially certified the final results of the 2020 general election based on the certified results provided by each county as statutorily required.

Pennsylvania’s Election Code outlines the process for counties to verify the number of voters and the number of ballots cast in each election. That process, which takes place during the official canvass, involves county boards of elections comparing the number of registered voters against the certificates returned by each election district that show the number of people who voted and the number of ballots cast. 

There is no evidence that any county board of elections failed to complete this post-election requirement or identified a discrepancy during this process that could have impacted the outcome of any election, including the 2020 general election.    

Trying to extrapolate numbers from the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE) system based on vote history contained in the Full Voter Export (FVE) file is not an accurate way to reconcile votes cast to the number of voters who participated in any individual election. 

While the SURE system is an important tool for county election officials to record the vote history for every individual registered voter in the Commonwealth, it was never intended to – and should not be used to – crosscheck vote totals for any specific election. Voter records in SURE are constantly updated as new voters register, or registered voters move to a different county and have their record transferred, or voters have their record cancelled as a result of moving to a different state, death, or other cancellations pursuant to state and federal law, such as protracted inactivity. 

So, for example, a registered voter in Philadelphia County who voted in the November 2020 general election but moved to New Jersey the next day would have their voter record cancelled in the SURE system when Philadelphia’s Board of Elections receives confirmation that the voter has moved. In that case, the voter’s general information – and the record of their having voted in November 2020 – would no longer be listed in subsequent FVE files. 

The FVE is a snapshot of the moment in time it is downloaded and cannot, therefore, be used to create a reconciliation of votes cast in any individual election.

Additionally, the SURE system does not publicly display records for all types of voters, including federal voters and confidential voters. Confidential voters are those whose identities are required by law to be kept out of publicly available voter registration databases and lists, and they include victims of domestic violence, stalking, or human trafficking.

For these reasons, among others, FVE files exported from SURE cannot be used to reconcile vote histories from individual voter files with the number of voters who voted in a given election.

As we shared with the public in our 2020 General Election Report on our website, a total of 6,945,045 registered voters successfully cast a ballot in Pennsylvania’s Nov. 3, 2020, general election. 

As Pennsylvania’s official certificate of ascertainment – which was signed by Gov. Wolf and is electronically stored within the National Archives – shows, a total of 6,915,283 votes were cast in that year’s presidential race. The certificate breaks down the votes per presidential candidate this way:

  • Biden/Harris: 3,458,229 
  •  Trump/Pence: 3,377,674 
  • Jorgensen/Cohen: 79,380 

Comparing these two official public data sources shows that 29,762 Pennsylvania voters (0.004% of the 6,945,045 voters who cast a ballot) did not have a vote recorded – for whatever reason – for one of the presidential candidates in that year’s race. This comparison clearly shows that there were not more votes than voters in Pennsylvania’s November 2020 general election.

It’s false that some voting systems used in some Pennsylvania counties cannot accurately read ballots where voters use Sharpie markers to fill in the ovals beside their selected candidates.

The short answer:

All claims made since 2020 that Pennsylvania voters’ ballots marked with Sharpies were unable to be counted--as well as claims that election workers deliberately handed out Sharpies to voters in an effort to invalidate their ballots--were determined by the Department of State to be unfounded. 

Counties may choose to purchase and use only voting systems certified at the federal and state levels. That certification process includes identifying and testing marking devices (pens, pencils, markers, etc.) to ensure the voting system can read them and they do not cause bleed-through or other marking issues. Counties then use that information to identify the best marking devices for their voters. 

All claims made in 2020 and 2022 that Pennsylvania voters’ ballots marked with Sharpies were unable to be counted – as well as claims that election workers were deliberately handing out Sharpies to voters in an effort to invalidate their ballots – were determined by the Department of State to be unfounded. 

Pennsylvania counties did not mail 240,000+ “unverified ballots” in the weeks leading up to the November 2022 election. 

The short answer:

There were not 240,000+ mail ballots sent to “unverified” requesters for the November 2022 election. The vast majority of voters provide proper ID when they apply to vote by mail, and any mail-in or absentee ballot from a voter whose identification cannot be verified by the sixth day after the election is not counted.

As the Department of State said in its Oct. 27, 2022, statement on this claim:

“There are not 240,000+ ‘unverified ballots,’ as certain lawmakers are claiming. That is misinformation. Any mail-in or absentee ballot from a voter whose identification cannot be verified by the sixth day after the election is not counted. …

“For your understanding, according to the requirements of the Election Code, county election offices are required to provide a mail-in or absentee ballot to any registered voter who requests one regardless of whether they provide proper ID at the time they request their ballot. It’s important to know that the vast majority of voters do provide proper ID at that time. In the event a voter’s ID cannot be verified during the application process, the voter has the ability to submit proper ID for their ballot until the sixth day after the election.”

Additional information explaining why this claim is false is contained within the Oct. 28, 2022, letter that then-Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman sent to then-Rep. Francis Ryan.

Pennsylvanians won’t always know the final results of all races on election night, and any changes in results that occur after election night are not evidence that an election is “rigged.”

The short answer:

While we would all like to go to bed on election night knowing who won in every race, determining unofficial results is a days-long process because county elections officials must follow the careful, deliberative process and timeline prescribed by Pennsylvania’s Election Code to achieve a thorough count of every eligible vote.

An accurate count of all votes cast by eligible voters is paramount to our democracy and cannot be rushed. County election workers must be given a reasonable amount of time to do their jobs and follow the law.

Hundreds of thousands – sometimes millions – of mail ballots are cast in every election, and current election law does not permit counties to begin opening these ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day. That means county election officials cannot even remove the ballots from the envelopes and prepare them to be scanned until that time – on a day when those same officials are also running more than 9,000 polling places across the state.

Then, under the Election Code, counties may not even begin to record and publish mail ballot results until after the polls close at 8 p.m. Election Day.

Even after the initial rounds of unofficial vote tallies are recorded and published, county canvass boards must continue the elections work. Those boards must meet no later than 9 a.m. on the Friday after the election and must continue canvassing and counting through the eighth day after the election.

Among other work, these boards adjudicate provisional ballots — ballots that are cast when it’s unclear if the voter is in the correct polling place or when a voter who applied for a mail ballot decides to vote in person instead but doesn’t have their mail ballot to surrender.

It’s important to note that at every step — during in-person voting at the polls, pre-canvassing and canvassing of mail ballots, and adjudication of provisional ballots — representatives selected by each candidate and political party may be present and observe the process to ensure the integrity of the vote count.

While news media “call” races on election night when there appears to be a wide and seemingly insurmountable margin between candidates, it’s important to note that they are basing their calls on unofficial results.

In close races, every vote must be counted before the outcome can be known. 

It’s false that automatic voter registration means that Pennsylvania automatically registers Pennsylvania residents to vote without their consent and/or without verifying their eligibility.

The short answer:

Commonwealth residents obtaining a new or renewed driver license or ID card who meet voter eligibility requirements are automatically taken through the voter registration application process at PennDOT driver and photo license centers unless they opt out of doing so.

Previously, eligible voters were required to take additional steps to opt in to the voter registration process. 

By implementing automatic voter registration in September 2023, Pennsylvania joined a group of 23 states led by both parties – including Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Georgia, and West Virginia – that have taken this step to promote election security and to save taxpayers time and money.

Pennsylvanians have been able to apply to register to vote during visits to PennDOT centers since the 1993 passage of the National Voter Registration Act, also known as the motor voter law. 

To be eligible to register to vote in Pennsylvania, applicants must be:

  • a U.S. citizen for at least 30 days before the next election,
  • a resident of Pennsylvania and their election district for at least 30 days before the next election, and
  • at least 18 years old on the date of the next election.

More information about voter registration eligibility is available at vote.pa.gov/register.