Pennsylvania election officials will not be able to count mail-in or absentee ballots that lack accurate, handwritten dates on their return envelopes, the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled Tuesday. The court did, however, direct county boards of elections to “segregate and preserve” those ballots. As a result, it is still possible for undated or improperly filled out mail-in ballots to be counted in Pennsylvania.
The justices split 3-3 on whether making the envelope dates mandatory under state law would violate provisions of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars election officials from discarding votes cast with immaterial errors or omission when counting.
State and national Republican organizations, in addition to voters, sought immediate review by the Supreme Court due to conflicting plans. Some counties planned on separating the ballots, others were going to count them, and some counties were going to discard the ballots entirely.
Despite a previous ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, Democrat Governor Tom Wolf’s administration had directed state election officials to count undated ballots. Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman announced last month that Pennsylvania election officials should continue counting ballots that arrive with undated or improperly filled-out envelopes, citing a previous state Supreme Court ruling.
“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. “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.”
While the court did not rule that undated or improperly filled-out mail-in ballots should be thrown out, they did order county election officials to “segregate and preserve” those votes. “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.
“We hereby DIRECT that the Pennsylvania county boards of elections segregate and preserve any ballots contained in undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes,” the state’s highest court added.
State and national Republican organizations and candidates have praised the ruling as a step towards restoring faith in elections.
Pennsylvania’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who has campaigned on election reform, celebrated the ruling as a win for election integrity. “A victory for election integrity! The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled today that undated ballots must be segregated and not counted,” Mastriano wrote in a tweet.
— Senator Doug Mastriano (@SenMastriano) November 1, 2022
Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called the court’s decision a “massive victory.”
“This ruling is a massive victory for Pennsylvania voters and the rule of law. Following an RNC, NRCC, and PAGOP lawsuit, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has made clear that incorrectly dated and undated mail ballots can not be counted,” McDaniel wrote. “Republicans went to court, and now Democrats and all counties have to follow the law: this is a milestone in Republicans’ ongoing efforts to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat in Pennsylvania and nationwide.”
While many conservatives have celebrated the ruling, America First Policy Institute Center for Election Integrity chairman Ken Blackwell cautioned that the decision could have been a “tactical retreat” by the court’s Democrats.
“This is a big win for election integrity, leaving open the question as to how a partisan Democrat state supreme court could have voted for it,” Blackwell told Breitbart News. “There was a question about whether this requirement could be severed from other items the Left cares about. Given that, I’m raising my eyebrows as to whether this was a tactical retreat.”
The justices were the split on the question of violating the Civil Rights Act. Three Democrat judges argued that the dating requirement violates federal law, while one Democrat and two Republican justices saw no violation. Written opinions detailing the court’s reasoning were not immediately available.
Pennsylvania has received a little over 850,000 returned mail-in ballots out of 1.4 million requested, the Associated Press reported.