Federal Appellate Court Orders Counting of Undated PA Ballots

UPDATE: On June 9, the U.S. Supreme Court denied an emergency application for a stay seeking to pause the 3rd Circuit’s ruling, vacating a previous administrative stay issued on May 31. This means that the undated ballots from the Lehigh County, PA judicial election must be counted at this time, per the 3rd Circuit’s order.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On May 27, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion explaining why Lehigh County in Pennsylvania must count undated mail-in ballots from a judicial election last November. This opinion follows an order issued last Friday. During the election, the county rejected 257 ballots because there were no handwritten dates next to the voters’ signatures on the outer ballot envelopes. Five of these voters sued to have their ballots counted, arguing that not counting these ballots violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the First and 14th Amendments. In March, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, ruling that the provision of the Civil Rights Act that the plaintiffs sued under does not include a private right of action, meaning the plaintiffs cannot bring a lawsuit. The plaintiffs then appealed this ruling to the 3rd Circuit.

The appellate court disagreed with the district court, ruling that the Civil Rights Act does create a right of private action. Furthermore, the court held that the requirement that voters write a date next to their signature on the outer ballot envelopes is “immaterial to determining their qualifications” and discarding their vote because of the requirement is not permissible under the Civil Rights Act. Accordingly, “the LCBE [Lehigh County Board of Elections] must count their ballots.” The ruling may play a role in the ongoing recount of ballots in Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary election, as U.S. Senate candidate David McCormick has filed a lawsuit to ensure undated ballots are counted.

Read the opinion here.

Learn more about the case here.