State Court Strikes Down PA’s Mail-In Voting Law

FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020 file photo, Chester County election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots for the 2020 general election in the United States at West Chester University in West Chester. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

By Ashley Adams

January 28, 2022

A panel of Commonwealth Court judges ruled that an amendment to the state’s constitution is required before mail-in voting can be allowed in Pennsylvania.

Mail-in voting may not be an option in future elections for the more than one million Pennsylvania voters already registered on the mail-in ballot list.

A five-judge Commonwealth Court panel of three Republicans and two Democrats ruled Friday that Act 77, the state’s mail-in voting law, is unconstitutional, agreeing with challenges by 14 House Republicans and a Bradford County Election Board member filed in August of last year.

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro said he would immediately appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

“This opinion is based on twisted logic and faulty reasoning, and is wrong on the law,” Shapiro tweeted. “It will be immediately appealed and therefore won’t have any immediate impact on Pennsylvania’s upcoming elections.”

Still, the decision throws Pennsylvania’s voting laws into doubt as the presidential battleground state’s voters prepare to elect a new governor and a new US senator in 2022.

The central claims of the lawsuit—which consolidated two separate cases challenging Act 77 into one—is that the law violates the constitutional provisions that require a voter “to present their ballot in person at a designated polling place on Election Day, except where they meet one of the constitutional exceptions for absentee voting.”

The exceptions include being out of town on business, illness, physical disability, election day duties, or a religious observance. But the lawsuit contends that the 2019 law violates those exceptions by allowing people to vote by mail even if they do not meet any  of those criteria .

The three Republican Commonwealth Court judges agreed that a constitutional amendment is needed to allow mail-in voting, which the Legislature did not do when Act 77 was passed. The two Democrats on the panel dissented. 

In the ruling, Commonwealth Court President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote, “If presented to the people, a constitutional amendment to end Article VII, Section 1 requirement of in-person voting is likely to be adopted. But a constitutional amendment must be presented to the people and adopted into our fundamental law before legislation allowing no-excuse mail-in voting can be ‘placed upon our statute books.'”

Just over 2.5 million people voted under the law in 2020’s presidential election, most of them Democrats, out of 6.9 million total votes cast.

Republicans soured on mail-in voting in 2020 after then-President Donald Trump began baselessly attacking it as rife with fraud and, later, claiming without evidence that the election was stolen from him in critical battleground states including Pennsylvania.

The 14 lawmakers involved with the court case include:

  • Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R-Lawrence)
  • Rep. Timothy Bonner (R-Mercer)
  • Rep. Bob Brooks (R-Westmoreland)
  • Rep. Bud Cook (R-Washington)
  • Rep. Barbara Gleim (R-Cumberland)
  • Rep. Mike Jones (R-York)
  • Rep. Barry Jozwiak (R-Berks)
  • Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-York)
  • Rep. David Maloney (R-Berks)
  • Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams)
  • Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren)
  • Rep. Frank Ryan (R-Lebanon)
  • Rep. Timothy Twardzik (R-Schuylkill)
  • Rep. David Zimmerman (R-Lancaster)

All of them voted for Act 77, except Zimmerman, who opposed it, and Bonner and Twardzik, who took office after the vote.

Trump quickly lauded the court’s decision.

“Big news out of Pennsylvania, great patriotic spirit is developing at a level that nobody thought possible. Make America Great Again!” he said in a statement through his political action committee.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Author

  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

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