Mail-in Ballots Without Accurate Handwritten Dates Must Still Be Counted, Judge Rules
Mail-in voting has been a heated issue in Pennsylvania since its use expanded in 2019. On Tuesday, a judge ruled that mail-in ballots without accurate handwritten dates on their exterior envelopes must still be counted if they are received in time. The ruling is significant as it affects the 2024 presidential election in a key battleground state where Democrats have been far more likely to vote by mail than Republicans.
The Decision and its Implications
U. S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter ruled that county boards of election may no longer reject mail ballots that lack accurate, handwritten dates on their return envelopes. Baxter said the date is irrelevant in helping elections officials decide whether the ballot was received in time or whether the voter is qualified to cast a ballot.
The ruling is a significant blow to the GOP, which has been repeatedly fighting in court to get such ballots thrown out. The judge, a Trump appointee, sided with several Pennsylvania groups represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that refusing to count such ballots “because of a trivial paperwork error” disenfranchises voters and violates provisions of the U. S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The decision has implications for the future of mail-in voting in Pennsylvania. Democrats have been far more likely to vote by mail than Republicans, and the GOP has been campaigning to invalidate mail-in ballots and mail-in voting in the state. However, this ruling ensures that Pennsylvanians who vote by mail, including senior citizens and voters with disabilities, will not face disenfranchisement because of a trivial mistake in handwriting an irrelevant date on the outer return envelope.
The Lawsuit and the Civil Rights Act of 1964
The lawsuit was filed by state chapters of the NAACP, League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the Black Political Empowerment Project and other groups. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids states from denying the right to vote “because of an error or omission on any record or paper” if the error is irrelevant in determining whether the person is qualified to vote in the election.
In Pennsylvania’s case, elections officials do not use the date on the outer envelope to determine whether the vote should be counted, the judge said.
The Status of Ballots and Previous Litigation
The status of ballots without properly dated envelopes has been repeatedly litigated since the use of mail-in voting greatly expanded in Pennsylvania under a state law passed in 2019. In November 2022, the state Supreme Court unanimously barred officials from counting such votes, directing county boards of elections to “segregate and preserve” those ballots.
The Department of State has said the state court decision to bar mail-in ballots without accurate handwritten dates resulted in otherwise valid votes being thrown out. The agency said more than 16,000 mail-in ballots in the 2022 midterm election were disqualified by county officials because they lacked secrecy envelopes or proper signatures or dates. Democratic voters made up more than two-thirds of the total cancelled ballots.
The 3rd U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in May 2022 that the dates are not mandatory, but the U. S. Supreme Court then deemed that decision moot, prompting the lawsuit that was decided Tuesday. National and state Republican committees argued the date requirement is useful in detecting fraud and that the materiality provision of the Civil Rights Act was inapplicable.
The ruling on Tuesday is a significant win for Pennsylvania voters and for the future of mail-in voting in the state. It ensures that even minor paperwork errors will not be used to disenfranchise voters. As the use of mail-in voting continues to expand across the country, it will be important to ensure that all voters have equal access to the ballot box.
- Pennsylvania mail-in ballots without accurate dates ruled valid
- Judge rules that mail-in ballots missing date should still be counted
- Mail-in voting expansion and legal battles in Pennsylvania
- Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the right to vote
- Implications for the future of mail-in voting in Pennsylvania
Read more about this topic at
Federal Court Rules Pennsylvania Mail Ballots Without a …
Federal judge says Pennsylvania mail-in ballots should still …