HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Pennsylvania officials cannot count votes from absentee ballots or absentee ballots that lack accurate, handwritten dates on their return envelopes, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday, a week before the lineup of the governor, U.S. Senate and legislature races state corporation begins.
The court ordered the county electoral authorities to “separate and store” those ballots.
The judges disagreed 3-3 on whether making envelope dates mandatory under state law, which stipulated that insignificant errors or omissions should not be used to prevent voting, would violate provisions of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Written comments supporting the court’s reasoning were not immediately available.
State and national Republican Party organizations and several GOP voters sought an immediate Supreme Court review, bypassing the lower courts, when it became clear that some county officials planned to discard ballots without the correct data and others were expected to they count them. The individual voters were dismissed from the proceedings by Supreme Court order.
Ronna McDaniel, Chair of the Republican National Committee, called it a “massive” victory for election integrity. “The Republicans have gone to court. Now Democrats must obey the law,” she tweeted.
The Republican National Committee, the Republican National Congressional Committee and the state party sued Secretary of State Leigh Chapman and the electoral boards in all districts. Beth Rementer, press secretary for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, said the decision would be reviewed but indicated it was important “that voters should follow all instructions on the ballot carefully and double-check before submitting it.”
Pennsylvania counties have reported receiving more than 850,000 completed mail-in ballots from the roughly 1.4 million voters who requested them. About 70% of the requests came from Democrats and about 20% from Republicans.
The total number of undated envelope ballots is likely small, but may be enough to determine the winner of a close race. In the 2020 presidential election, Philadelphia reported receiving nearly 381,000 absentee ballots. Among them were about 8,300 undated ballots.
Officials in various counties have said they are already placing ballots with no dates on the return envelopes in separate piles awaiting a court ruling. Some counties may attempt to notify voters that their ballots are missing data and allow those voters to visit their voting offices to correct them.
On the issue of the federal civil rights law, Democratic Justices Debra Todd, Christine Donohue and David Wecht saw a violation of federal law, while Democrat Kevin Dougherty and Republicans Kevin Brobson and Sallie Mundy did not.
The status of ballots without properly dated envelopes has been repeatedly contested since Pennsylvania’s use of absentee voting was greatly expanded under a state law passed in 2019.
Last week, State Department officials under Wolf argued in a brief that state law between 1945 and 1968 directed county election officials to withhold mail-in ballots if the envelope date was later than the date of the election.
But a 1968 amendment to the state statute, they said, removed from a section of the electoral law “the requirement that counties withhold ballots based on the date on the ballot return envelope.”
The data is not used to verify that ballots are received in time for the election day count; That’s what happens when counties time-stamp them upon arrival. There is evidence that at least some counties in Pennsylvania have considered any date acceptable, even dates in the future.
Republican litigants had asked judges to rule, based on the language of state law, that voters should “complete, date and sign the statement printed on the outside envelope of the ballot.” As an alternative, they asked the judges to separate ballots from undated or misdated return envelopes.
The 3rd US Circuit of Appeals ruled in May that the dates are not mandatory, but recently the US Supreme Court found that decision moot, leading to the current lawsuit.
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https://6abc.com/pennslyvania-mail-in-ballots-pa-election-2022-midterm-supreme-court/12409385/ 2022 Midterm Election: Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules ballots in undated envelopes won’t count