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A mailbox sits outside a U.S. Post Office building, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in the Susquehanna Township section of Harrisburg, Pa. (AP) A mailbox sits outside a U.S. Post Office building, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in the Susquehanna Township section of Harrisburg, Pa. (AP)

A mailbox sits outside a U.S. Post Office building, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in the Susquehanna Township section of Harrisburg, Pa. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman November 3, 2022

Trump falsely said Democrats are playing ‘games’ with ‘unverified’ ballots in Pennsylvania

If Your Time is short

  • Voters applying for a mail or absentee ballot are asked to provide proof of their identities. But ballots are mailed to voters even if they lack ID or it can’t be verified when they apply.

  • Applications that are missing ID or require verification are marked as "NV," which means "not verified." 

  • The "NV" coding doesn’t mean the voter is ineligible — it means the voter’s identification needs to be verified. Voters have six days after Election Day to provide identification; if they don’t, their ballots are not counted. 

Former President Donald Trump promoted a false theory that Democrats are using "unverified" ballots in Pennsylvania as part of an election plot.

"Over 240,000 'unverified' ballots have already been sent out in Pennsylvania, a total mess," Trump said Oct. 28 on his social media platform Truth Social. "The Democrats are playing games again because they know they are in deep trouble after unleashing skyrocketing crime, record Inflation, a war against American Energy, etc. Luckily, some Great Patriots and members of the State House are watching very closely. Be careful! And VOTE!"

We saw similar posts on Instagram and Twitter, some falsely claiming that this was election stealing or fraud.

Trump gives the impression that a huge number of residents who are ineligible to vote are casting ballots, and that has not been proved. A Republican lawmaker who wrote a letter in October to election officials raising concerns about unverified voters later told PolitiFact he found nothing "nefarious" about the "not verified" designation.

State election officials said there have not been hundreds of thousands of "unverified ballots."

The claim makes an assumption based on how election officials code mail ballot applications.

In Pennsylvania, voters can request an "absentee ballot" or a "mail ballot." The absentee ballot is requested when voters have certain excuses, such as being out of town on Election Day. Any voter can request a mail ballot without citing a reason. 

How the state codes mail in ballot requests

The claims about "unverified" voters circulated after a group of Republican state representatives sent an Oct. 25 letter to Leigh Chapman, the commonwealth’s acting secretary. 

The letter wrongly claimed that as of Oct. 21, state department data showed that counties had "already mailed over 240,000 unverified ballots." The representatives asked Chapman to direct counties to not count ballots cast by voters whose identities were unverified. 

State officials responded that there are not more than 240,000 "unverified ballots." The verification label relates to applications for mail ballots, not actual ballots cast and counted.

In Pennsylvania, voters applying for mail or absentee ballots must provide their state driver’s license, state-issued photo ID or the last four digits of their Social Security numbers. Voters who have none can provide another form of ID, such as a photo ID from a college or a long-term care facility.

The vast majority of voters provide proper ID when they apply for a mail ballot. However, if a voter lacks ID at the time of their request, local election officials are still required to provide a ballot. 

Such ballot applications are marked as "NV," meaning "not verified," as part of an internal workflow code that alerts the statewide voter registration system of applications that require further identification verification. 

Under Pennsylvania law, voters’ identifications are verified the first time they vote in person or each time they request a mail or absentee ballot, Chapman said in an Oct. 28 letter to the Republican legislators. County election officials are responsible for verifying voters’ identifications, primarily through an automated process.

If an applicant’s identification was not provided or could not be verified, the local election officials send a notice to the elector, along with the ballot, saying identification is required for the ballot to be counted.

A city of Philadelphia spokesperson told us that the application type assigned to the applicant, either V (verified) or NV, will never change during an election. After a voter’s ID is verified, the application type remains the same, but the application’s status will be updated.

Ballot applications can be marked "NV" for a variety of reasons. For example, applications would get this mark if they are from voters on the permanent mail-in or absentee list who requested mail ballots for both the primary and general elections and who need to have their IDs reverified for the general election.

Though the number continues to shift, Chapman told reporters that as of noon Nov. 1, about 7,400 applications still needed ID verification. 

Pennsylvania law gives voters six days after Election Day — this year, until Nov. 14 — to provide identification.

If identification cannot be verified by the sixth day, the ballot is not counted.

Washington County Elections Director Melanie Ostrander told the Observer-Reporter  that unverified voters are likely people who requested ballots using a nickname or who forgot to add a suffix, such as junior or senior, in their applications. 

Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, one of the state legislators who sent the letter to election officials, told PolitiFact that the "NV" coding does not represent "any nefarious behavior," but shows that "the system is poorly designed." 

Trump’s statement suggests that the "unverified" situation is something Democrats orchestrated. But the "NV" coding pertains to ballots sent by election officials across the state, which includes red, blue and battleground areas. The October letter from Republican lawmakers doesn’t single out "Democrats," although Chapman is a Democrat appointed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

We sent an email to spokespersons for Trump and received no response. 

Our ruling

Trump said "over 240,000 'unverified' ballots have already been sent out in Pennsylvania, a total mess. The Democrats are playing games again." 

Trump’s statement suggests wrongdoing on behalf of Democrats, but we found no evidence of any attempts to manipulate the election. One of the Republican legislators who wrote a letter to the state about those ballots told PolitiFact he saw no nefarious behavior.

A computer system flags a mail ballot application as "NV," or not verified, if further steps are required to verify a voter’s identification. But that doesn’t mean that 240,000 ballots were sent to unverified or ineligible voters.

We rate this claim False. 

RELATED: Ballots found in drop box before the voting period opened were legitimate, county official says

RELATED: Not all results will be known on election night 2022. That’s normal

RELATED: All of our fact-checks about Pennsylvania

Our Sources

Former President Donald Trump, Truth Social post, Oct. 28, 2022

Fifteen Pennsylvania republican representatives, Letter to Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Leigh Chapman, Oct. 25, 2022

Pennsylvania Department of State, Department of State Corrects Misinformation About "Unverified Ballots," Oct. 27, 2022

The Associated Press, No, Pennsylvania didn’t send 255K ballots to ‘unverified’ voters, Oct. 31, 2022

Reuters, Fact Check-Pennsylvania Department of State says ballots were not sent to 240,000 unverified voters, Oct. 28, 2022

Observer Reporter, Today is final day to request mail-in ballot in Pa. Nov. 1, 2022

Washington Examiner opinion, Despite legislators' concerns, Pennsylvania voting system is working, Oct. 27, 2022

Pennsylvania Department of State, Guidance concerning civilian absentee mail-in ballot procedures, Sept. 26, 2022

Pennsylvania Department of State, Department of State Corrects Misinformation About "Unverified Ballots," Oct. 27, 2022

Pennsylvania, Department of State, Voters Should Hand-Deliver Mail-in and Absentee Ballots Immediately, Nov. 1, 2022

Email interview, Amy Gulli, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of State, Nov. 1-2, 2022

Email interview, state Rep. Frank X. Ryan, Nov. 1, 2022

Email interview, Nick Custodio, Philadelphia Deputy Commissioner, Office of Commissioner Deeley; Chairwoman, Nov. 2, 2022

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Trump falsely said Democrats are playing ‘games’ with ‘unverified’ ballots in Pennsylvania

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