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Democratic committees file motion to allow misdated Pennsylvania mail-in ballots to be counted

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Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
December 22, 2023

Three Democratic national committees are filing an intervention motion to counter GOP attempts to disqualify Pennsylvania voters’ misdated mail-in ballots in future elections.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC), Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) filed the motion Friday to intervene in Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP Branches v. Secretary, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania so that mail-in ballots with the wrong date — or no date — on the outer ballot would be counted. 

“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy,” the executive directors of the organizations — Sam Cornale, (DNC) Christie Roberts, (DSCC) and Julie Merz, (DCCC) — said in a joint statement. “Every eligible voter in Pennsylvania and across the country has a constitutional right to have their voice heard, but Republicans’ assaults on their freedom to cast their ballots would throw away Pennsylvanians’ perfectly legal votes and undermine our democracy. At every turn, as the GOP launches cynical, baseless attacks on Americans’ voting rights, Democrats will intervene on the side of voters.” 

The committees are asking to intervene to ensure that any timely mail ballots that are undated or incorrectly dated are counted in all future elections. The date is not material to the validity of the vote or the eligibility of the voter, the groups argue.

Pennsylvania’s mail-in balloting law, Act 77, allowed voters to cast absentee ballots without an excuse — previously, voting by mail was allowed when the voter was disabled, ill, or would be away from home and unable to vote in person.

The law has been subject to repeated challenges since it took effect in 2020. Candidates have fought in court over the law’s language around the dates on the envelopes. In the 2020 presidential election, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that voters should not be disenfranchised for the mistake of not dating the envelopes in that election, but that the provision should be enforced in future elections.

After the Commonwealth Court ruled in December 2021 that undated ballots could not be counted in a Lehigh County judicial election, a group of voters backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania took the case to federal court.

Reversing an Allentown-based federal judge’s decision, the 3rd Circuit found the date requirement violated the Civil Rights Act’s materiality clause, which bans restrictions on ballot access that are not material to a voter’s qualifications.

The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the 3rd Circuit’s decision in October 2022 without issuing an opinion and setting the stage for further litigation over the ballot-dating requirement.

On Nov. 21, a federal judge in Erie ruled that voters who forget to write the date or put the wrong date on the return envelopes of their mail-in ballots must have their votes counted if the ballots are received by the Election Day deadline.

Granting summary judgment in favor of the groups and voters, U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter found that throwing out ballots over the dating requirement violates the federal law against disenfranchising voters with requirements that are not material to their qualifications to vote.

Earlier this month, the Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee and Republican Party of Pennsylvania appealed the court’s decision to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Dec. 13, the 3rd Circuit paused the district court’s decision pending the appeal.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.