Supreme Court overturns Pennsylvania vote-by-mail law decision

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Pennsylvania’s senior elections official said Tuesday a new US Supreme Court ruling on how the state’s mail-in ballot rules were applied in a district judge’s election does not change her agency’s guidance on counting them. Acting Secretary of State Leigh M Chapman said county elections officials should count absentee ballots that arrive in external envelopes with inaccurate or nonexistent handwritten dates, despite a requirement in state law The Supreme Court earlier Tuesday had a decision by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals for Disputed that absentee ballots without a required date on the return envelope had to be counted in a 2021 Pennsylvania judges’ race. Chapman issued a statement saying the High Court’s decision did not affect a separate, earlier decision by the state’s Commonwealth Court in favor of counting ballots without properly dated exter ior envelopes. The new ruling, Chapman said, “provides no justification for counties to bar ballots because of a minor omission, and we expect counties to continue to meet their obligation to count all legal votes.” Chapman works on the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf, a democrat. The Third Circle had said that the state elections law’s requirement for a date next to the voter’s signature on the outside of return envelopes was “irrelevant”. That lower court had said it had found no reason to refuse to count the ballots overturned in the November 2, 2021 Lehigh County joint objection judge election. Those votes were enough to propel Democrat Zac Cohen to victory He has since been sworn in, and the new US Supreme Court decision is not expected to reverse the results of Cohen’s campaign.” Joshua Voss, an attorney, Representing losing justice nominee in the Lehigh County race, Republican David Ritter, said in a phone call Tuesday he believes the effect of the new Supreme Court ruling is to return state law to where it once was “The State Department should certainly update its guidance,” Voss said, “but ultimately the elections are run by the counties, and the counties have to judge the legislature.” Adam Bonin, an attorney for Cohen, said voters shouldn’t go all the way left to chance. “Voters should still be careful to follow all instructions,” Bonin said, including using a security envelope and signing and dating the outer return envelope, cited in other cases but should be ruled moot. He said it’s possible there could be more litigation over the undated envelopes if there’s a close race in November and a candidate wants to seek judicial review. “I don’t know ‘probably’ because it would require a close race. So possible? Yes. Probably? I do not know. Remember, those ballots made the difference in Ritter’s race, which is why the case existed,” Voss said. Pennsylvania allowed only limited use of absentee ballots until 2019, when a state law authorized them for voters who did not otherwise qualify from a list of acceptable excuses. A lawsuit by Republican lawmakers challenging the ballot-by-mail law is pending in a state court, while the state Supreme Court upheld the law in August against a separate lawsuit against the 2020 presidential election, most of them Democrats, totaling 6.9 million votes. Chapman said Tuesday more than 1.1 million mail-in and mail-in ballots have been requested for the fall general election.

Pennsylvania’s senior elections official said Tuesday a new US Supreme Court ruling on how the state’s rules for absentee ballots were applied in a district judge’s election does not change her agency’s guidance on counting them.

Acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman said county election officials should count absentee ballots received in external envelopes with inaccurate or nonexistent handwritten dates, despite a requirement in state law.

Watch the video above to see how a Duquesne University law professor interprets this decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier Tuesday challenged a decision by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals that required mail-in ballots without a required date on the return envelope to be counted at a 2021 judges’ race in Pennsylvania.

Chapman issued a statement saying the High Court’s decision did not overturn a separate, earlier decision by the state’s Commonwealth Court in favor of counting ballots without properly dated outer envelopes.

The new ruling, Chapman said, “provides no justification for counties to bar ballots because of a minor omission, and we expect counties to continue to meet their obligation to count all legal votes.” Chapman works on the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf, a democrat.

The Third Circuit had said that the state elections law’s requirement for a date next to the voter’s signature on the outside of the return envelopes was “irrelevant.” That lower court had said it found no reason to refuse to count the ballots overturned in the November 2, 2021 Lehigh County joint objection judge election.

Those votes were enough to propel Democrat Zac Cohen to victory in the race. He has since been sworn in, and the new US Supreme Court decision is not expected to reverse the results of Cohen’s campaign.

In the most recent decision, the judges ruled 7-2 that the Third Circuit must “dismiss the case as moot”.

Joshua Voss, an attorney representing losing trial nominee in the Lehigh County race, Republican David Ritter, said in a phone call Tuesday he believes the effect of the Supreme Court’s new ruling is to restore state law returns to where it once was.

“The State Department should definitely update its guidance,” Voss said. “But at the end of the day, the elections are administered by the counties, and the counties have to judge what the legal position was.”

Adam Bonin, an attorney for Cohen, said voters shouldn’t leave anything to chance.

“Voters should still be careful to follow all instructions,” Bonin said, including using a security envelope and signing and dating the outer return envelope.

Voss had argued before the Supreme Court that the Third Circuit ruling had already been cited in other cases but should be ruled out.

He said it’s possible there could be more litigation over the undated envelopes if there’s a close race in November and a candidate wants to seek judicial review.

“I don’t know what ‘likely’ is because it would require a close race. So possible? Yes. Probably? I do not know. Remember, those ballots made the difference in Ritter’s race, which is why the case existed,” Voss said.

Pennsylvania allowed limited use of mail-in ballots until 2019, when a state law authorized them for voters who didn’t otherwise qualify from a list of acceptable excuses.

A lawsuit by Republican lawmakers challenging the mail-in ballot law is pending in a state court, while the state Supreme Court upheld the law against a separate lawsuit in August.

More than 2.5 million Pennsylvanians voted by mail in the 2020 presidential election, most of them Democrats, out of a total of 6.9 million votes. Chapman said Tuesday more than 1.1 million mail-in and mail-in ballots have been requested for the fall general election.

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