The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled that mail-in ballots without the required date on the return envelope should be counted. However, after the Supreme Court vacated the decision, acting Pennsylvania Secretary of State Leigh Chapman issued a statement claiming that the opinion was “not based on the merits of the issue and does not affect the prior decision.”
The ACLU is therefore seeking to intervene in Ball v. Chapman, a lawsuit pushing for election officials to refrain from counting ballots without a date on the envelope, and contends that thousands of voters’ disenfranchisement is at stake.
“Throwing out valid votes because of a minor paperwork error is undemocratic, illegal, and smacks of desperation,” ACLU attorney Ari Savitzky said in a statement. “This effort threatens thousands of Pennsylvanians, most of them senior citizens and longtime voters, with disenfranchisement. Under Pennsylvania state law and federal law, a ballot cannot be tossed if a voter simply forgets to handwrite an inconsequential date on the outer return envelope. These votes must be counted.”
The motion, backed by voting rights groups such as the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference and the Black Political Empowerment Project, argues that any new restrictions would unduly interrupt the midterm election cycle.
“Election officials know when ballots are sent to voters and when they are received,” League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania Executive Director Meghan Pierce added. “A voter adding a handwritten date to their return envelope does not add a verification of any sort. This latest attempt to disenfranchise voters for the simple mistake of not dating their return envelopes attempts to undo the progress Pennsylvania has made in making elections more accessible.”
Strife over the commonwealth’s laws regarding undated mail-in ballot envelopes emerged between Dr. Mehmet Oz and David McCormick, who competed to secure the Republican nomination for the Pennsylvania Senate race earlier this year. The Oz campaign blamed McCormick for “following the Democrats’ playbook” and eroding voter confidence in the election by pressing officials to count the disqualified ballots. Voters will choose between Oz and Pennsylvania Lt. Governor John Fetterman, a Democrat, next month.
The Republican National Committee, which joins plaintiff David Ball in the lawsuit, argues that returning a mail-in ballot with an undated envelope violates state law. The group asserts that the Supreme Court’s opinion made sufficiently clear that such votes should not be counted and said that Chapman was wrongly usurping the high court in her attempt to disregard the ruling.
“Republicans are holding Pennsylvania Democrats accountable for their brazen defiance of the Supreme Court and the rules duly set by the legislature,” state and national Republican officials said in a statement. “Pennsylvania Democrats have a history of election integrity failures and Pennsylvanians deserve better: this lawsuit is the latest step in Republican efforts to promote free, fair, and transparent elections in the Keystone State.”
The Senate race between Oz and Fetterman is among the most competitive in the country and could help Democrats retain control of the upper chamber. According to a recent survey from Emerson College and The Hill, the former candidate is supported by 43% of the voting population, while the latter is supported by 45%.