A lower appeals court ruling regarding mail-in votes that altered the course of a Pennsylvania judiciary race has been invalidated by the United States Supreme Court.
The original decision was made in May by the U.S. 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. To be counted in the 2021 judicial race, mail-in ballots must not have a mandatory date printed on the return envelope. Because undated ballots could be counted, Zac Cohen, a Democrat, won his race to become a Lehigh County common pleas judge.
Cohen will continue to hold his office. However, there is some confusion around the Supreme Court ruling due to the fact that the general election is just weeks away.
Leigh Chapman, Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of State, stated that every county should still include the ballots in the official returns for the Nov. 8, election. This is consistent with Department of State guidance.
Chapman stated in a statement that “that guidance followed the most recent Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruling that both Pennsylvania law and federal law prohibit the exclusion of legal votes because the voter omitted a date on the ballot return envelope,” Chapman added.
Chapman stated on Tuesday morning that she was currently reviewing the decision.
Chapman stated that the current guidance was for counties to count any ballots that are missing a deadline or have the wrong date. “I’m unable to comment on the impact of what happened with Supreme Court. However, I can tell you that we will continue to evaluate and update the guidance as needed.”
This is likely to be a problem for his administration, as Pennsylvania’s governor happens to be a Democrat. Joshua Voss, a lawyer representing David Ritter, the Republican candidate in the Lehigh County judicial election, is represented by Joshua Voss. He claims that the ruling will only restore the law to the state from the place it was before the appeals court ruling.
Voss stated that the Department of State should update its guidance. “But, at the end-of-the day, elections will be administered by counties. The law’s state will have to be assessed by the counties.”
He continued by saying that, even though Pennsylvania counties won’t be compelled to follow the new ruling, it is possible for new lawsuits to arise in the future if certain races are too close.
“I don’t know anything about ‘likely’, because it would require close races. So, possible? Yes. Likely? I’m not sure. Voss stated that these ballots were the reason Ritter’s race was different.
Pennsylvania only allowed the use of absentee mail in ballots up to 2019, when a state law approved them for voters who didn’t otherwise meet a list acceptable excuses.
State court is currently hearing a lawsuit from Republican legislators challenging the mail-in voter law. However, the August Supreme Court upheld the law in its entirety against another challenge.
The Secretary of State office has more guidance in the works, but there is still time for midterms. This could be another electoral boondoggle that Pennsylvania will enjoy.