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Supreme Court reverses lower court’s decision to allow un-dated mail-in ballots to be counted in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s top-ranking state election official said Tuesday that a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling on how the state’s mail-in ballot rules were implemented in county judge elections counters his agency’s guidance. does not change.

Acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman said county election officials must count mail-in votes that come in outer envelopes with incorrect or non-existent handwritten dates, despite a requirement in state law.

The US Supreme Court earlier Tuesday declared controversial a decision in May by the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals that held that mail-in ballots without a required date on return envelopes were to be counted in the 2021 Pennsylvania judge’s race. .

The judges ruled 7-2 that the Third Circuit should “dismiss the case as contentious.”

Chapman issued a statement saying that the high court’s decision did not affect a separate, previous ruling by the state’s Commonwealth Court, which had favored counting ballots without properly dated outer envelopes.

The new decision, Chapman said, “provides no justification for counties to exclude ballots on the basis of a minor omission, and we expect counties to continue to comply with their obligation to count all legal votes.” Will keep.” Chapman works in the administration of a Democrat, Gov. Tom Wolf.

The Third Circuit stated that state election law requiring a date next to the voter’s signature on the outside of the return envelope was “immaterial”. That lower court said it found no reason to refuse to count the ballots set aside in the November 2, 2021 general arguments judge election in Lehigh County.

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

Joshua Voss, a lawyer who represents Republican David Ritter, the judicial candidate who lost in the Lehigh County race, said in a phone call Tuesday that he believes the new high court’s ruling will have the same effect. that the law of the state goes back to where it was.

“The State Department should definitely update its guidance,” Voss said. “But at the end of the day, elections are administered by counties and counties would need to assess what the state of the law was.”

Cohen’s lawyer, Adam Bonin, said voters should leave no stone unturned.

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

Voss argued in the Supreme Court that the Third Circuit’s decision was already being cited in other cases, but should be declared controversial.

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

“I don’t know about ‘likelihood’ because that would require a close race. So, possible? Yes. Likely? I don’t know. Remember, these ballots differentiated Ritter’s race, that’s why That matter existed,” Voss said.

State House Republican Caucus spokesman Jason Gottsman said in a statement that the Pennsylvania law is “clear: ballots must be dated,” and urged the Wolf administration to work on sweeping election law changes that would make the process more uniform, accessible. . Modern and secure.

This case includes a law requirement for handwritten dates on return envelopes that are also logged by county election workers and are usually postmarked.

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

A lawsuit by Republican lawmakers challenging the mail-in voting law is pending in state court, while in AugustHe upheld the law by the state’s Supreme Court. Against a different challenge.

More than 2.5 million Pennsylvanians voted by mail during the 2020 presidential election, the majority of whom were Democrats, for a total of 6.9 million votes. Chapman said Tuesday that more than 1.1 million absentee and mail-in ballots have been requested for the fall general election.

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