A Pennsylvania judge has ordered three Republican-controlled counties to add about 800 disputed mail-in ballots to the May election results, ruling in a legal dispute that has blocked statewide certification of primary results for Governor and US Senate.
The Republican judge sided with the Democratic governor on Friday in a lawsuit over whether mail-in ballots that do not have dates handwritten on their return envelopes should be counted. The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal battles over the state’s 2019 Elections Act, which dramatically expanded mail-in voting.
The law requires voters to date envelopes. But Commonwealth Court President Justice Renee Cohn Jubelirer agreed with Governor Tom Wolf’s administration that the lack of a date was a minor irregularity and should not disenfranchise those voters.
The 2019 law eliminated heterosexual party voting — a provision favored by GOP lawmakers — but also gave Democrats a broad expansion of mail-in voting. Since the pandemic, Pennsylvania Democrats have voted by mail in far greater numbers than Republicans.
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Berks, Fayette and Lancaster counties were ordered to count undated mail-in ballots, and the judge gave counties a Wednesday deadline to certify their primary election results — including undated ballots. dated – and report to state election officials.
The Pennsylvania State Department, which oversees the elections, said the election results in the three counties would allow it to certify the May primary results, including for governor and the Senate.
“We believe this decision means counties must now include undated ballots in the totals they submit to the State Department for certification,” said department spokeswoman Amy Gulli.
The decision came more than a month after the Wolf administration sued county election commissions to force them to count undated ballots and certify their results.
Berks County is reviewing the decision and has not made a decision on an appeal, spokeswoman Stephanie Weaver said. The Lancaster County Board of Commissioners declined to comment. An email has been sent to Fayette County officials seeking comment.
In Friday’s ruling, Cohn Jubelirer noted that the state legislature had not expressly stated that ballots without a handwritten date on the outer envelope should be rejected. But other sections of the election law require certain defective ballots to be invalidated, such as those that reveal a voter’s identifying information, she wrote.
“The dating provisions at issue do not expressly provide that such ballots should not be counted, unlike other provisions of the Electoral Code,” the judge wrote. “Where certain provisions of the electoral code do not expressly provide for a consequence of non-compliance, the courts have held that, absent something else, such as fear of fraud, the ballot should not be invalidated.”
The 2019 Elections Act requires voters to put a date next to their signature on the outside of postal return envelopes. But the handwritten dates do not determine whether voters are eligible or whether they voted on time.
Cohn Jubelirer’s ruling said the requirement that voters date the return envelopes of their ballots had no obvious purpose.
After filing suit against all three counties, state officials learned that a fourth county, Butler, failed to include undated mail-in ballots in the election results it certified to the state.
The Wolf administration chose not to add Butler County to its lawsuit because the state’s top election official had already certified the county’s results and “balanced the need to have results precise and the need to have a finality in these already certified elections”, wrote the judge. .
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