With the election less than a week away, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in favor of a Republican bid to keep improperly cast ballots from being counted.
The Republican National Committee (RNC), the state Republican Party and the National Republican Congressional Committee filed a lawsuit last month asking the high court to require ballots without the correct date and any date not be counted. The move was in response to acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman’s guidance to county election departments to count those flawed ballots, despite an order from the U.S. Supreme Court prohibiting it.
Chapman sent a directive to county election officials saying the high court’s order was “not based on the merits of the issue.”
“It provides no justification for counties to exclude ballots based on a minor omission, and we expect that counties will continue to comply with their obligation to count all legal votes,” Chapman wrote in that directive.
“This ruling is a massive victory for Pennsylvania voters and the rule of law,” said Ronna McDaniel, RNC chairwoman. “Following an RNC, NRCC, and PAGOP lawsuit, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has made clear that incorrectly dated and undated mail ballots cannot be counted. Republicans went to court, and now Democrats and all counties have to follow the law: this is a milestone in Republicans’ ongoing efforts to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat in Pennsylvania and nationwide.”
According to state law, voters who use mail-in ballots are required to follow rules that say those ballots must be signed and dated on the envelopes. However, the court’s brief ruling said it was divided on the question of whether throwing out the ballots violates federal law. The court ordered Pennsylvania county boards of elections to “segregate and preserve any ballots contained in undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes.”
Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) and House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin) issued a joint statement:
“Dates matter, and the dating of important documents has been a critical tool in officiating the legality of documents for centuries. We thank the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for re-confirming what we have said all along: Pennsylvania’s election law is undeniably clear that mail-in ballots and absentee ballots must be correctly dated to be valid.
“We are also glad to see the Pennsylvania Supreme Court order that incorrectly dated or undated mail-in ballots and absentee ballots should be segregated, something we requested the Pennsylvania Department of State advise counties to do weeks ago.
“Today’s decision is not only a win for the plain language of Pennsylvania law, but also for upholding the security and integrity of our elections,” Cutler and Benninghoff said.
Pennsylvania is one of the most-watched states, with the hotly contested race U.S. Senate race between Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz and Lt. Gov John Fetterman, a Democrat. It could determine control of the Senate. While Fetterman had been leading for several months, a Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll released Tuesday showed the race is now tied.
The RNC is involved in 75 cases of election integrity litigation in 20 states this cycle. This latest victory follows other recent legal wins, including winning a lawsuit against Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson for restricting the rights of poll challengers.
And winning a lawsuit against the North Carolina State Board of Elections’ attempt to restrict the rights of poll watchers.
Chapman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
However, she did publish an op-ed warning the results of the 2022 midterms might not be known for a few days after the election.
“While we would all like to go to bed on Election Night knowing who won in every race, it will likely take a few days for complete unofficial results,” Chapman wrote.
“An accurate count is paramount and cannot be rushed. County election workers must be given a reasonable amount of time to do their jobs and follow the law. That short interval of time will not be because anything nefarious is occurring; rather, it simply means that the careful, deliberative process and timeline prescribed by Pennsylvania’s Election Code is at work to achieve a thorough count of every eligible vote.
“It takes time to count more than 1.3 million mail ballots. And current election law does not permit counties to begin pre-canvassing these ballots until 7 a.m. Election Day,” Chapman said.