Pennsylvania Law Expanding Voter Access Struck Down by Court
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, a Pennsylvania trial court struck down Act 77, a 2019 law aimed at expanding voting access across the Commonwealth. In particular, the law increased vote-by-mail opportunities by allowing any voter to cast a mail-in ballot, extending the mail-in ballot period to 50 days, creating a permanent mail-in ballot list and extending the mail-in ballot submission deadline. The law also added 15 more days for voter registration. Almost two years after the law was enacted, two lawsuits were filed challenging the law’s no-excuse mail-in voting provision. A member of the Bradford County Board of Elections filed a lawsuit in July 2021, followed soon after by a group of Republican state representatives. The Democratic National Committee and the Pennsylvania Democratic Party intervened in the case to defend the law, while the Butler County Republican Committee, the York County Republican Committee and the Washington County Republican Committee intervened to attack the law. The cases were consolidated and went before a five-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania last November.
Today, the court ruled in a 3-2 decision that the no-excuse mail-in voting provision violates the Pennsylvania Constitution and Act 77 is therefore invalid in its entirety. The court determined that the state constitution “has been consistently understood, since at least 1862, to require the elector to appear in person, at a ‘proper polling place’ and on Election Day to cast his vote. The ability to vote at another time and place, i.e., absentee voting, requires specific constitutional authorization.” The opinion points out that the state constitution expressly allows for mail-in voting “where the elector’s absence is for reasons of occupation, physical incapacity, religious observance, or Election Day duties,” but does not address mail-in voting in all circumstances. This signaled to the judges that voters who do not fall into the prescribed categories are constitutionally required to cast their ballots in person at a polling place. The opinion acknowledged the popularity of mail-in voting across the Commonwealth and suggested that a future constitutional amendment voted on by the people may be successful, but until that law is in place they cannot condone no-excuse mail-in voting.