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Pennsylvania S. Ct. Rejects Challenges to Certain Mail-In Ballots

From Justice Christine Donohue’s 3-Justice plurality opinion today (joined by Justices Max Baer and Debra Todd) in In re: Canvass of Absentee & Mail-In Ballots (Appeal of: Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.):

These appeals present the question of whether the Election Code requires a county board of elections to disqualify mail-in or absentee ballots submitted by qualified electors who signed the declaration on their ballot’s outer envelope but did not handwrite their name, their address, and/or a date, where no fraud or irregularity has been alleged. Pursuant to our longstanding jurisprudence, central to the disposition of these appeals is whether the information is made mandatory by the Election Code or whether the inclusion of the information is directory, i.e., a directive from the Legislature that should be followed but the failure to provide the information does not result in invalidation of the ballot….

[W]e conclude that the Election Code does not require boards of elections to disqualify mail-in or absentee ballots submitted by qualified electors who signed the declaration on their ballot’s outer envelope but did not handwrite their name, their address, and/or date, where no fraud or irregularity has been alleged….

Justice David Wecht concurred in part but dissented as to how such matters should be dealt with in the future:

I agree with the conclusion that no mail-in or absentee ballot should be set aside solely because the voter failed to hand print his or her name and/or address on the declaration form on the ballot mailing envelope. These items are prescribed not by statute but by the Secretary of the Commonwealth under legislatively delegated authority. Absent evidence of legislative intent that what in context amounts to redundant information must be furnished to validate a mail ballot, their omission alone should not deny an elector his or her vote. But I part ways with the conclusion reflected in the Opinion Announcing the Judgment of the Court (“OAJC”) that a voter’s failure to comply with the statutory requirement that voters date the voter declaration should be overlooked as a “minor irregularity.” …

[I]n future elections, I would treat the date and sign requirement as mandatory in both particulars, with the omission of either item sufficient without more to invalidate the ballot in question. However, under the circumstances in which the issue has arisen, I would apply my interpretation only prospectively. So despite my reservations about the OAJC’s analysis, I concur in its disposition of these consolidated cases….

And Justices Kevin Dougherty, Thomas G. Saylor, and Sallie Updyke Mundy concurred in part and dissented in part:

I concur in the decision to affirm the lower courts’ orders pertaining to ballots where the qualified electors failed to print their name and/or address on the outer envelope containing their absentee or mail-in ballots. However, I cannot agree that the obligation of electors to set forth the date they signed the declaration on that envelope does not carry “weighty interests.” I therefore respectfully dissent from the holding at Section III(2) of the OAJC which provides that the undated ballots may be counted….

I can’t opine on the merits of the matter, since I’m not up on the relevant Pennsylvania law (and this is a question of state law, not of the U.S. Constitution); but I thought I’d pass along the opinions. Thanks to Howard Bashman (How Appealing) for the pointer.


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Eugene Volokh

Founded in 1968, Reason is the magazine of free minds and free markets. We produce hard-hitting independent journalism on civil liberties, politics, technology, culture, policy, and commerce. Reason exists outside of the left/right echo chamber. Our goal is to deliver fresh, unbiased information and insights to our readers, viewers, and listeners every day. Visit https://reason.com

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