An official mail-in  ballot for the 2020 General Election in the United States is shown, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, in Marple Township, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) Election 2020 Pennsylvania Mail-In Voting
An official mail-in ballot for the 2020 General Election in the United States is shown, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, in Marple Township, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Bottom line after Tuesday’s ruling: If you want your mail-in ballot to count, make sure there’s an accurate, handwritten date on the return envelope.

With a week to go until Election Day, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday that Pennsylvania officials cannot count votes from mail-in or absentee ballots lacking accurate, handwritten dates on their return envelopes, a decision that could impact thousands of votes.

The court, however, did not say the ballots must be rejected, directing counties instead to “refrain from counting” those ballots.

“We hereby direct that the Pennsylvania county boards of elections segregate and preserve any ballots contained in undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes,” the court said in a brief.

The process of segregating ballots occurs when votes are challenged legally. If required by law, the ballots are then added to vote counts.

Tuesday’s decision stemmed from the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the state GOP party filing suit against Secretary of State Leigh Chapman and election boards in every county. Since the 2020 election, state Republicans have waged a strong fight against the expansion of mail-in voting in the state, despite the fact that many of those same Republicans voted for the expansion in 2019.

Given the disproportionate number of Democrats who vote by mail, the decision greatly favors state Republicans.

Ahead of next week’s election, Pennsylvania counties have reported receiving more than 850,000 completed mail-in ballots from the roughly 1.4 million that voters have requested. About 70% of requests have come from Democrats and about 20% from Republicans.

The total number of the undated envelope ballots is likely small but may be enough to determine the winner of a close race. In the 2020 presidential election, Philadelphia reported receiving almost 381,000 mail ballots. Among them were about 8,300 undated ballots.

Officials in various counties have said they were already putting ballots without dates on the return envelopes into separate piles in anticipation of a court ruling. Some counties may try to notify voters that their ballots are missing the dates, providing those voters the ability to visit their election offices to fix them.

Beth Rementer, press secretary for Gov. Tom Wolf, said the decision was under review but showed it was important “that voters should carefully follow all instructions on the ballot and double check before sending.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.