Ballots that arrive in time should be counted, Pennsylvania judge rules

A voter arrives to cast their mail-in ballot at the City-County Building in downtown Pittsburgh Monday, May 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

By Sean Kitchen

November 22, 2023

A US District Judge ruled on Tuesday that mail-in ballots that arrive on time but are misdated or not dated at all shall be counted. The decision is expected to be appealed to the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals.

US District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter ruled on Tuesday that mail-in ballots that arrive on time before the election but are left undated by Pennsylvania voters should be counted. The ruling came out of the Western District of Pennsylvania and is expected to be appealed to the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Every eligible person who casts a ballot should have their vote counted,” Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.

“The handwritten-date requirement is completely irrelevant and unnecessary because elections officials know whether the ballot was received on time. And the whole point of this provision in the Civil Rights Act was to stop states from disqualifying votes for frivolous reasons, like this date requirement. We’re grateful that the court understood that.”

Baxter wrote in her ruling that the date requirement violates the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act.

The Court has concluded that the Commonwealth’s mandatory application of its Date Requirement violates the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act. Since the Court is confident that the Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment should be granted on that basis, there is no need to reach their constitutional claim (and) the Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim will be dismissed,” the ruling said.

The lawsuit, NAACP v. Schmidt, was filed by the Pennsylvania State Conference of the NAACP, Black Political Empowerment Project, Common Cause Pennsylvania, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Make the Road Pennsylvania and POWER Interfaith and the groups were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the law firm Hogan Lowells.

The Keystone recently reported that close to 350 mail-in ballots were thrown out by Dauphin County’s Board of Elections due to minor technicalities such as putting the wrong date on the ballot or leaving the ballot undated.

“Voters shouldn’t be disenfranchised for trivial paperwork errors, especially when elections officials notice them in time for the voters to fix them. And most voters who are affected by this are elderly voters, not careless ones.” Adam Bonin, who is an election lawyer based in Philadelphia, said in a statement to The Keystone.

Progressive organizations and voting rights groups from around the commonwealth praised Tuesday’s decision.

“Our faith calls us to advocate for equitable access to the ballot box, striving to eradicate any injustice that undermines the sacred principle of democratic representation,” Bishop Dwayne Royster, Executive Director of POWER Interfaith, said in a statement.

“We cannot allow technicalities to strip away the voices of countless voters who participated in the democratic process, particularly those of us who have historically faced barriers in accessing the ballot box. Count every vote and ensure that eligible ballots are not disqualified over minor paperwork errors.”

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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