Insight

Mail-in Ballot Mayhem: Pennsylvania’s Current Electoral Mix Up

An appeals court recently stated that Pennsylvania has a glaring discrepancy with its mail-in ballot, which, if left untreated, could result in invalid votes.

U.S. ballot box with voting signage
GS

Gregory Sirico

June 21, 2024 12:00 AM

On April 3rd, a series of Pennsylvania-based federal appeals court judges issued a critical ruling, affirming that in the future, it is a requirement for voters to put accurate, handwritten dates on mail-in ballot envelopes before submission. This issue, which as of late has broadly divided the 3rd Circuit, rescinded a ruling administered by a lower court, favoring state-based voters' rights advocates. The advocates in question argue that by rejecting or turning away mail-in ballots with improper dates, the government would quickly violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964. All this comes on the brink of an upcoming presidential election, in which Pennsylvania historically plays the role of a swing state.

As determined in the case of NAACP v. Schmidt, this ruling will reinstate a previously held technical mandate that resulted in thousands of Pennsylvania votes being invalidated during the 2022 election. The state has emphasized that the issue stemmed from a majority of voters mistakenly writing their date of birth in the field where they were supposed to put the date on which they filled out the ballot. While the number of invalidated votes stands to account for only a minute fraction of Pennsylvania's vast pool of eligible voters, the court's current decision draws attention to the state's electoral procedures and capability ahead of the upcoming primaries in late April.

This ruling is the latest development in what has been a longstanding legal battle over the state's mail-in ballot system. In the past, numerous lower court judges ruled that mail-in ballots should be counted regardless of the dates on the envelopes, as long as they were submitted on time. However, the appeals court determined that the Civil Rights Act section cited by the lower court does not extend to ballot-casting rules like envelope dates but only concerns eligibility to vote.

"The date decision is irrelevant to whether a vote is received timely; the blink response is to believe a voter's failure to date a return envelope should not cause his ballot to be disqualified and does not apply to rules, like the date requirement, that govern how a qualified voter must cast his ballot for it to be counted," stated Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro, as initially reported by the Bucks County Beacon.

Ambro, who was appointed by former President Clinton in 1999, was quick to note that the date requirement has little to no apparent purpose. However, since the state's Supreme Court ruled that dating envelopes was a mandatory step, "undated or misdated ballots are invalid under state law and must be set aside." Additionally, Ambro expressed that state law mandates mail-in voters to date the declaration only on the return envelope, rendering ballots invalid if this requirement is not met.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania, representing the voters seeking to challenge the ballot mandate, contested that the Civil Rights Act prohibits disqualifying voters due to paperwork errors irrelevant to their overall voter eligibility. Additionally, the organization expressed concern that thousands of votes could go uncounted due to a minor error. If upheld, this decision would've been the early makings of a legal timebomb, potentially ending in a Supreme Court showdown over the swing state's ballots ahead of the highly anticipated November presidential election.

Headline Image: iStock.com/CSA-PRINTSTOCK

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