Undated ballots invalidated in PA a week before Election Day
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled with Republicans on Tuesday, Nov. 2 to strike down the counting of mail-in ballots without a date.
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Incorrectly and undated mail-in ballots will be invalid and disqualified according to a ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday, Nov. 1. The court ordered election officials in the battleground state to not count ballots with incorrectly written dates on the outer envelope.
The ruling was the result of a 3-3 deadlock vote over whether rejecting ballots over dating issues violated federal civil rights law. The court sided with Republicans after months of political and legal controversy surrounding the matter. It will ultimately have implications for thousands of voters in PA less than a week away from Election Day, Nov. 8.
“We thank the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for re-confirming what we have said all along,” PA Republican House Speaker Bryan Cutler and Republican House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff said in a statement. “Pennsylvania’s election law is undeniably clear that mail-in ballots and absentee ballots must be correctly dated to be valid.”
As Democrats are more likely than Republicans to vote by mail, it could be a race-altering decision regarding the campaigns of Democratic candidates in PA such as Gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro, and U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman. The Democratic National Committee nor the PA Democratic Party have responded to the ruling.
In the official order, it did not contain explanations regarding the justices’ decision, but instead said that those reasons would be released at a later date.
“We hereby direct that the Pennsylvania county boards of elections segregate and preserve any ballots contained in undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes,” the order said.
The latest ruling is a result of a lawsuit filed this past October by a bloc of Republican groups, such as the Republican National Committee and Pennsylvania GOP. In that motion, the GOP groups cited a state law that requires ballots to have the dates on the return envelope in order for them to be valid and therefore counted.
In the deadlock vote, three of the justices argued invalidating the ballots simply over a missing or incorrect date would result in unseemly prohibited legal votes while the other three disagreed with that argument.
In what is a huge win for the GOP, they were quick to celebrate. RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called the ruling a “massive victory for Pennsylvania voters and the rule of law,” while the chairman of the State Republican party Lawrence Tabas called it a “tremendous win for election integrity.”
“Republicans went to court, and now Democrats and all counties have to follow the law,” she added, “This is a milestone in Republicans’ ongoing efforts to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat in Pennsylvania and nationwide.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of PA expressed their disappointment on Twitter and urged voters to follow the steps on the ballot with extreme attention to detail.
“We're disappointed. No one should be disenfranchised for an irrelevant technicality,” they wrote.
The seventh justice that could have been the decider on the matter is still vacant following the death of former Chief Justice Max Baer earlier this year. The ruling does however contradict a guidance issued this past September from Democrat and Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Leigh M. Chapman that said ballots without the date or incorrectly written, should still be counted as long as they were returned on time. An appeal on that ruling is still unclear.
“We are reviewing, but the order underscores the importance of the state’s consistent guidance that voters should carefully follow all instructions on their mail ballot and double-check before returning it,” a spokeswoman for Chapman Amy Gulli, said in an email on Tuesday.
Spokespeople Gov. Tom Wolf and the PA Department of State, the department overseeing the elections, said the Democratic governor’s administration was currently in the process of reviewing the order and its potential implications with less than a week to go till the midterms.
“The order underscores the importance of the state’s consistent guidance that voters should carefully follow all instructions on the ballot and double-check before sending,” said Wolf spokesperson Beth Rementer.
The Department of State and Amy Gulli separately told voters that are potentially now concerned about whether they have made a mistake on their ballot to call their respective county elections office or they can also call the state voter hotline at 1-877-VOTES-PA.
Mail-in ballots must be received by the county elections office by Election Day, Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. or they will not be accepted.