The Montgomery County and Bucks County boards of elections have filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of State secretary seeking to clarify the rules for mail-in and absentee ballots.
At issue is whether ballots where voters do not include a date with their signature as instructed can still be counted.
“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a county board of elections must have a compelling reason for refusing to canvass a ballot due to minor irregularities,” the suit said. And it added, “The legislature has failed to provide any clarification for voters or county boards of election regarding the voter’s declaration.”
Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) said the legislature is filing a brief to intervene in the case, which is pending in Commonwealth Court. According to the docket, state lawyers asked for more time to respond to the suit, which was filed Oct. 1.
Grove, who chairs the House Government Committee, said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued rulings in the 2020 election to permit the counting of mail-in ballots in an Allegheny County race that were not properly signed and dated.
The state Supreme Court ruled on Nov. 23, 2020 against a challenge brought by Nicole Ziccarelli, who lost a close state Senate election, regarding the validity of 2,349 mail-in ballots that were signed but not dated. A four-justice majority held that not dating the ballots “did not warrant the disenfranchisement of thousands of Pennsylvania voters.”
“Uniformity, that’s our big issue with the elections,” Grove said. “You’re seeing non-uniform policies.”
Grove said the changes requested in the lawsuit filed by Bucks and Montco officials had been part of previous legislation vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf. In an op-ed in “The Federalist,” Grove accused the county officials of working to advance the goals of the Democratic Party through the courts, rather than working with legislators to fix the state’s election laws.
However, new election laws were introduced in the legislature to make the voting process smoother.
“As the Voting Rights Protection Act moves through the legislative process, the committee today took steps to ensure elections across the commonwealth’s 67 counties are uniform and that all voters are treated equally,” Grove said, on his website. “We also took a major step toward holding non-elected public servants accountable in terms of ensuring ballot questions actually up on ballots.”
Grove cited these bills: Senate Bill 738 by Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) would require the Department of State to post a tracker on its website for the public to monitor every step and action item the department is taking to ensure proper compliance to carry out a proposed constitutional amendment.
And House Bill 1482 by Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) would require the Commonwealth and each county in this Commonwealth to implement a post-election audit using an approved auditing method.
In addition, House Bill 2044 by Rep. Eric Nelson (R-Westmoreland) would end private funding for public elections in the commonwealth. More than $20 million was given by a nonprofit related to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg went to 21 Pennsylvania counties that were trending Democratic or had a majority of Democratic voters in 2020.
While there were widely reported issues with the 2020 election, there have also been problems with the Nov. 2 2021 election, particularly with mail-in ballots in Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties.
In Indiana County, Grove said, voters were given the wrong instructions for mail-in ballots, then the corrected instructions issued were also incorrect.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” he said.
He is very concerned about the 2022 election cycle, since the governor’s office and a U.S. Senate seat will be contested and large numbers of voters will likely cast ballots. The Senate seat, now held by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who is not running again, could decide which party controls of the Senate and is widely thought to be a seat that might flip to the Democrats.
“Next year in Pennsylvania there will be a nationalized election for the outcome of Congress,” said Grove. “We want to at least make sure Frances Wolf does not become confused in the next election.” Grove was referring to a widely reported error by the first lady, who dropped off her husband’s mail-in ballot, in violation of election laws.
A spokesperson for Wolf called that incident “an honest mistake.”