Pennsylvania election officials have been ordered to refrain from counting undated or improperly dated mail-in and absentee ballots. This is regarded as a big win for state Republicans, who have expressed concern over both the integrity of the Nov. 8 general election and consistency in how botched mail-in ballots are treated.
Lawrence Tabas, chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, said the ruling is “a tremendous win for election integrity, and for voters across the commonwealth whose faith in our elections is the very cornerstone of democracy.”
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel deemed the result a “MASSIVE election integrity win in Pennsylvania,” adding that “Republicans went to court. Now Democrats have to follow the law.”
Since Democrats have relied more on mail-in ballots than Republicans since 2019, the AP suggested this ruling will likely lead to more disqualified Democrat votes.
The Republican push to shore up ‘public trust’
The AP reported that last week, state and national Republican Party organizations, along with a number of GOP voters, sought immediate review by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. They successfully bypassed the lower courts, as it had become apparent there was a statewide disconnect on what to do with improperly returned ballots.
Some counties were counting ballots in envelopes where the declaration was not dated, whereas others were simply discarding them. PennLive reported that in anticipation of the court’s ruling, a number of counties had even begun placing improperly dated envelopes into separate piles.
The Republicans who sought the injunction emphasized that the “General Assembly could not have been clearer” when it “mandated that a voter who chooses to vote via absentee or mail-in ballot ‘shall . . . fill out, date and sign the declaration’ printed on the outer envelope of the ballot.”
It didn’t hurt that a majority of the state supreme court had already held that “any absentee or mail-in ballot that does not comply with the General Assembly’s date requirement is invalid and cannot be counted in any election after the 2020 general election.”
Republicans argued that any “counting of ballots that the General Assembly has declared invalid … are eroding public trust and confidence in the integrity of Pennsylvania’s elections at a vital moment in the Nation’s and the Commonwealth’s history.”
The court evidently agreed.
Upholding the letter of the law
On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered that state county boards of elections are to refrain from counting “any absentee and mail-in ballots received for the November 8, 2022 general election that are contained in undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes.”
Such ballots are to be instead segregated and preserved.
WHTM indicated that 918,975 vote-by-mail ballots had been returned as of Nov. 1.
Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Leigh Chapman’s Oct. 25 brief recommended against the order, claiming that the Republican petitioners did not have standing.
Chapman’s brief alleged that by requiring voters to follow the law and by discarding their improperly dated ballots, the state would be in violation of federal law.
Chapman’s brief cited the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states: “No person acting under color of law shall … deny the right of any individual to vote in any election because of an error or omission on any record or paper relating to any application, registration, or other act requisite to voting, if such error or omission is not material in determining whether such individual is qualified under State law to vote in such election.”
Although the decision to grant the petitioners’ request for injunctive relief was unanimous, the court, down one justice after Chief Justice Max Baer (D) died earlier this month, was split regarding Chapman’s concern.
Three Democrat justices, Debra Todd, David Wecht, and Christine Donohue, thought it was a violation, whereas Republican Justices Kevin Brobson and Sallie Mundy were joined by Democrat Justice Kevin Dougherty in arguing it wasn’t.