The Commonwealth Court Friday ruled that Pennsylvania’s no-excuse mail-in voting law, Act 77, is unconstitutional.
In addition to striking down the law, the court ordered the acting secretary of state not to enforce Act 77.
The 3-2 ruling found the law, which permitted no-excuse absentee voting, while ending straight-ticket voting, violated the constitutional requirement of “the physical presence of the elector.” The judges found the legislature could not make changes to voting laws without amending the state Constitution.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democratic candidate for governor, said he will appeal the decision.
“This opinion is based on twisted logic and faulty reasoning, and is wrong on the law,” said Shapiro, who is also the presumed Democratic candidate for governor. It will be immediately appealed and therefore won’t have any immediate impact on Pennsylvania’s upcoming elections. The issue will now go before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and we are confident in the constitutionality of Act 77.”
Gov. Tom Wolf agreed, saying, “The administration will immediately appeal this decision to the state Supreme Court and today’s lower court ruling will have no immediate effect on mail-in voting pending a final decision on the appeal.
An appeal has already been filed, triggering an automatic stay that keeps the law in place during the appeal process.
“The Republican-controlled legislature passed Act 77 with strong bipartisan support in 2019 to make voting more safe, secure, and accessible and millions of Pennsylvanians have embraced it,” Wolf said.
He accused Republicans who opposed Act 77 of “trying to silence the people.”
Pennsylvania Republicans, however, were thrilled. And they used the ruling to criticize the Wolf administration’s execution of the law.
“There have been numerous concerns raised about the way Act 77 was implemented by the Department of State, especially the double standard created by the removal of key mail-in ballot security measures in lead-up to the 2020 election,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Bellefonte). After what occurred in the 2020 and 2021 elections, I have no confidence in the no-excuse mail in ballot provisions. There is no doubt that we need a stronger election law than the one we have in place today.
“Today’s ruling should serve as a call to action to open up a serious conversation about the reforms necessary to make voting both accessible and secure for all Pennsylvanians. Gov. Wolf has ignored this debate for over a year, but hopefully this ruling will help bring him to the table so we can address concerns about our election system once and for all.”
Corman plans to introduce a bill with voter ID, eliminating straight-party voting and ending drop-boxes, as well as banning outside money to fund elections, which was done by Mark Zuckerberg in key areas of Pennsylvania in 2020.
Republican Bill McSwain, the former U.S. Attorney for eastern Pennsylvania running for governor castigated those who supported Act 77, including his Republican primary opponents.
“Act 77 has wreaked havoc across our state and robbed voters of confidence in their elections. Any politician who supported this unconstitutional bill on either side of the aisle is unqualified to be governor,” said McSwain. “As U.S. Attorney and as a candidate for governor, I have consistently called Act 77 unconstitutional, and applaud the Commonwealth Court for recognizing it as such.”
Former Congressman Lou Barletta, another gubernatorial candidate, promised to repeal Act 77 if it remains on the books after appeals are exhausted.
“Now we know that not only was Act 77 a terrible law, it was also unconstitutional and shouldn’t have been passed in the first place,” said Barletta. “Most states that go to widespread mail-in voting take years to implement the process, but in Pennsylvania, we went from under 300,000 people voting by mail in 2016 to over 2.6 million in 2020. Local elections officers weren’t trained, equipped, or staffed to handle the flood of ballots and the result was the chaos that we all saw.”