Supreme Court reverses lower court ruling on counting undated mail-in ballots

Supreme Court reverses lower court ruling on counting undated mail-in ballots

Pennsylvania’s top-ranking state elections official stated Tuesday that a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding how rules for state mail-in ballots were applied in a county judge’s election does not change her agency’s guidance on counting them.

Acting secretary of state Leigh M. Chapman stated that county elections officials should count mail in votes that arrive in envelopes with incorrect or non-existent handwritten dates, in spite of a requirement in state law.

The U.S. Supreme Court had declared moot a May decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that mail-in ballots must be counted in a 2021 Pennsylvania judge’s race.

The justices ruled 7-2 in favor of the 3rd Circuit dismissing the case as moot.

Chapman released a statement stating that the high court’s decision did not affect an earlier ruling by the state Commonwealth Court, which had allowed ballots to be counted without properly dated envelopes.

The new decision, Chapman stated, “provides no reason for counties to exclude ballots due to a minor omission. We expect that counties will continue complying with their obligation to count every legal vote.” Chapman is employed in the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat.

The 3rd Circuit ruled that the state election law’s requirement for a date next the voter’s signature on return envelopes was “immaterial.” That lower court had said it found no reason to refuse counting the ballots that were set aside in the Nov. 2, 2021, election for common pleas judge in Lehigh County.

These votes were enough for Zac Cohen to win the race. He was sworn in, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s new decision is not expected reverse the results of Cohen’s election contest.

Joshua Voss is a lawyer representing the losing candidate in the Lehigh County judicial race. He said Tuesday that he believes that the new high court ruling will have the effect of restoring state law to its original form.

” The Department of State should update its guidance,” Voss stated. “But at the end, elections are administered in counties. The law will be assessed by the counties.”

Adam Bonin is a Cohen lawyer and said that voters should not leave anything up to chance.

“Voters must still follow all instructions,” Bonin stated. This includes using a security envelope and signing the exterior return envelope.

Voss argued to the Supreme Court the 3rd Circuit ruling was already cited in other cases, but should be declared moot.

He stated that it is possible that additional litigation over undated envelopes could occur if there’s a close race in November or a candidate wishes to seek a review by the court.

” I don’t know what ‘likely’ means because it would require a close race. So, possible? Yes. Likely? I don’t know. Voss stated that these ballots were what made the difference in Ritter’s race. Voss disagreed.

Jason Gottesman was a spokesperson for state House Republican Caucus and stated in a statement that Pennsylvania law is clear: ballots must have dated. He urged the Wolf administration on to make comprehensive changes to election law that will make the process more accessible, modern, and secure.

The case concerns the law’s requirement that return envelopes must be handwritten with dates. These are usually logged in by county election workers, and postmarked.

Pennsylvania allowed only limited use of absentee mail-in ballots until 2019, when a state law OK’d them for voters who did not otherwise qualify from a list of acceptable excuses.

A lawsuit is pending against the state law regarding mail-in voting. In August, the state Supreme Court upheld the law in opposition to a separate challenge.

More than 2.5 million Pennsylvanians voted by mail during 2020’s presidential election, most of them Democrats, out of 6.9 million total votes. Chapman stated Tuesday that more than 1 million ballots were requested by voters via mail and absentee ballots for the fall General Election.

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