Pennsylvania Supreme Court Explains 2022 Order Disqualifying Certain Mail-in Ballots
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, Feb. 8, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its opinion explaining its prior ruling that blocked certain mail-in ballots from being counted during the 2022 midterm elections. On Nov. 1, 2022, the court issued an order that blocked Pennsylvania counties from counting undated (ballots that are timely cast and valid but missing a date on their outer return envelopes) and wrongly dated mail-in ballots (ballots that are timely cast and valid but have an incorrect date, such as the voter’s birthday, on their outer return envelopes). This ruling came after several Republican committees sought immediate relief from the state Supreme Court in order to block the ability of counties to count both undated and wrongly dated mail-in ballots, which the court granted on Nov. 1, 2022 in an unexplained order. Today, the state Supreme Court issued its opinion explaining why wrongly and incorrectly dated mail-in ballots cannot be counted under Pennsylvania law.
The majority noted a 2020 ruling allowing for the counting of undated mail-in ballots, but concluded that it did not ‘“put this issue to rest”’ and four justices agreed that “failure to comply with the date requirement would render a ballot invalid in any election after 2020” given state law. Notably, the state Supreme Court’s six current justices were evenly divided as to whether not counting undated or wrongly dated mail-in ballots would violate the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act, thereby leaving the issue open. The opinion reflects the gridlock within the court with only three justices supporting the finding that Pennsylvania’s mail-in ballot rejection practices violate the Materiality Provision.
While there was not a majority decision on the Materiality Provision question from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, two federal lawsuits (one filed by Democrats and one by a coalition of voting rights groups) were filed in November 2022 challenging Pennsylvania’s plan to not count undated and wrongly dated mail-in ballots. Both suits allege that not counting these ballots violates the Materiality Provision. Litigation will continue in these two federal challenges.