Pennsylvania Judge Denies Centre County GOP Request To Disqualify Undated and Misdated Mail-In Ballots

WASHINGTON D.C. — A Pennsylvania judge today rejected a request from Centre County GOP Chair Michelle Schellberg and local voters to disqualify nearly 100 mail-in ballots cast in the state’s April 23 primary election with misdated or undated outer envelopes. 

The ruling comes as part of a lawsuit filed earlier this month in which Schellberg and individual voters alleged that the Centre County Board of Elections wrongly decided to include 95 ballots in the county’s vote tally with dates that were imprecise or missing altogether. The lawsuit additionally sought to prevent the board from counting undated or misdated mail-in ballots in all future elections.

In today’s order, Judge Julia R. Rater dismissed the county GOP’s legal action on the grounds that Schellberg and the voters filed their petition too late after the board’s April 25 decision to count the 95 undated or misdated ballots. Without reaching the merits of the case, Rater concluded that under state law, the petitioners would have needed to file their appeal of the board’s decision by April 27 or May 2 at the very latest. 

“The Appeal was not filed until May 7, 2024. As such, it is untimely,” Rater’s order reads. 

 Although the 95 contested ballots did not stand to materially affect Centre County’s primary election outcomes, they nonetheless resulted in the county postponing certification of its results as the litigation played out. Following today’s ruling, Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt (R) is expected to certify the statewide primary election results — a process that was held up due to Centre County’s certification delay.  

According to the now-dismissed GOP lawsuit, a 2022 decision from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and 2023 decision from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals preclude Pennsylvania counties from counting mail-in ballots with outer return envelopes that are undated or incorrectly dated. 

On the other hand, the Centre County Board of Elections argued that the “Pennsylvania Supreme Court left untouched the county boards of elections’ authority to determine whether a ballot’s outer envelope is correctly dated.” 

The board also maintained that Schellberg and her co-petitioners brought their legal action too late after its members decided to count the ballots, thereby foreclosing the challenge under state law. In addition to agreeing with this argument in today’s order, Rater maintained that “even if Petitioners’ Appeal could be construed as a petition for an election contest”— as opposed to an appeal of the board’s decision — “it would be fatally deficient leaving the Court without jurisdiction to decide the matter.”

Rater further acknowledged the urgency of finalizing the state’s certification of its primary election results, reasoning that she must dismiss the appeal so as to “avoid any confusion or potential further delays.” In an amicus brief in support of the Centre County Board of Elections, Schmidt and the Pennsylvania Department of State previously urged the court to dismiss the petition in order to allow the secretary to “perform his duty and finally certify the 2024 primary.” 

Centre County was not the only Pennsylvania County beset by legal challenges over mail-in ballots in the wake of the state’s April 23 primary. Litigation is ongoing in a case out of Butler County, where the board of elections refused to allow voters to cure mail-in ballots that were missing inner secrecy envelopes. 

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.