The top state elections official in Pennsylvania stated on Tuesday that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding how the state’s mail-in ballot regulations were applied in a county judge election does not alter her agency’s recommendations regarding their counting.
Despite a requirement in state law, county elections officials should count mail-in ballots that come in external envelopes with incorrect or absent handwritten dates, according to acting secretary of state Leigh M. Chapman.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling from May ordering that mail-in votes for a 2021 Pennsylvania judge election that did not include the appropriate date on the return envelope must be counted was deemed moot by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier on Tuesday.
The 3rd Circuit must “dismiss the appeal as moot,” the judges concluded 7-2.
In a statement, Chapman claimed that a different, earlier judgment by the state Commonwealth Court in favor of counting votes without properly dated outside envelopes was unaffected by the high court’s decision.
Chapman stated that the new ruling “does not provide any justification for counties to exclude ballots based on a minor omission, and we expect that counties will continue to comply with their duty to count all legal votes.” Chapman is employed by Democratic governor Tom Wolf’s government.
The 3rd Circuit had ruled that it was “immaterial” for state election law to require a date to be written next to the voter’s signature on the exterior of return envelopes. In the Nov. 2, 2021, election for a common pleas judge in Lehigh County, that lower court had stated that it had found no justification for declining to count the ballots that had been set aside.
These votes were sufficient to give Zac Cohen, a Democrat, the edge he needed to win. The latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling is not anticipated to overturn Cohen’s election challenge results since he has already been sworn in.
Republican David Ritter’s losing judicial candidate in the Lehigh County race, Joshua Voss, said in a phone call on Tuesday that he thinks the new high court decision will result in a return of previous state law.
The Department of State should amend its advice, according to Voss. However, counties are ultimately responsible for overseeing elections, therefore they must evaluate the legal situation.
Voters shouldn’t leave anything to chance, said Adam Bonin, an attorney representing Cohen.
“Voters should still be careful to follow all of the instructions,” Bonin said, including the use of a security envelope and signing and dating the exterior return envelope.
Voss had argued before the Supreme Court that the 3rd Circuit decision should be declared moot because it had already been cited in other cases.
He said it’s possible that more litigation over the undated envelopes might occur if there is a close race in November and a candidate wants to seek a court review.
“I don’t know about ‘likely’ because it would require a close race. So, possible? Yes. Likely? I’m not sure. Keep in mind that these votes were the deciding factor in Ritter’s victory, which is why the case existed “Says Voss.
Pennsylvania law “is clear: ballots must be dated,” according to Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for the state House Republican Caucus, who also urged the Wolf administration to work on comprehensive election law changes that will make the procedure more uniform, accessible, modern, and secure.
In this instance, the law’s requirement for handwritten dates on return envelopes—which are additionally logged by county election workers and typically bear a postmark—that are also postmarked is at issue.
Prior to 2019, Pennsylvania only permitted limited use of absentee mail-in ballots for voters who did not otherwise qualify from a list of legal justifications.
Republican legislators have filed a lawsuit in state court contesting the mail-in voting statute, but the state Supreme Court upheld it in August in response to a different complaint.
Out of the 6.9 million total votes cast in Pennsylvania during the 2020 presidential election, more than 2.5 million mail-in ballots were cast, the majority of them by Democrats.
More than 1.1 million mail-in and absentee ballot requests for the autumn general election, according to Chapman, have been made.