The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that the state must not accept undated mail-in ballots.
In a per curiam decision Tuesday, the court ruled that county boards of elections in Pennsylvania must segregate mail-in ballots that are not dated on the outer envelope, or have an incorrect date, and not include them in the final vote tally. The state supreme court ruling followed a decision by the acting secretary of state to include the undated ballots in the final count ahead of the 2022 midterms.
“The Pennsylvania county boards of elections are hereby ORDERED to refrain from counting any absentee and mail-in ballots received for the November 8, 2022 general election that are contained in undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes,” the court wrote in its two-page order. The ruling directed the county election boards to segregate and preserve the ballots. Opinions would follow soon afterward, the order stated.
The court was split, however, on whether rejecting the mail ballots in question violated federal law. Democratic Chief Justice Debra Todd and Democratic Justices Christine Donohue and David Wecht would have found that rejecting the ballots would violate federal law. Democratic Justice Kevin Dougherty and Republican Justices Sallie Updyke Mundy and Kevin Brobson would have found no violation of federal law.
The ruling came after acting Pennsylvania Secretary of State Leigh Chapman said that the state would count undated ballots despite the Supreme Court vacating a lower court ruling that allowed the state to count ballots. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in May of this year that undated mail ballots must be counted. The court found that a date on the outside of the ballot envelope has no bearing on a voter’s eligibility, and throwing out those ballots would violate the voters’ civil rights, Fox News reported. But the United States Supreme Court threw that ruling in October, and ordered the lower court to dismiss the case as moot, requiring Pennsylvania to return to established mail-in voting laws.
But Chapman said that the state would continue to count votes, citing a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruling, which stated that undated ballots must be counted. “Every county is expected to include undated ballots in their official returns for the Nov. 8 election, consistent with the Department of State’s guidance,” Chapman wrote in an announcement on October 12, via Fox News. “That guidance followed the most recent ruling of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court holding that both Pennsylvania and federal law prohibit excluding legal votes because the voter omitted an irrelevant date on the ballot return envelope.”
“Today’s order from the U.S. Supreme Court vacating the Third Circuit’s decision on mootness grounds was not based on the merits of the issue and does not affect the prior decision of Commonwealth Court in any way,” she added. “It provides no justification for counties to exclude ballots based on a minor omission, and we expect that counties will continue to comply with their obligation to count all legal votes.”
Chapman previously stated that election results would not be available on election night for the upcoming governor and Senate races because of state laws controlling when the state can begin counting mail ballots, as The Daily Wire reported.
“It’s really important for us to get accurate information about the election process in Pennsylvania,” Chapman said. “So voters and the public know that when there are delays in counting, it doesn’t mean that there’s anything nefarious happening. It’s just what the law is in Pennsylvania.”