Pennsylvania to count undated ballots, election official says, despite US Supreme Court ruling

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A top election official in Pennsylvania says the state will disregard the U.S. Supreme Court’s guidance on counting mail-in ballots arriving in envelopes with typos or incorrect dates, saying that the state’s Commonwealth Court has already established the practice as licit.

Pennsylvania’s election laws have historically required voters to include a signature and date on the outside of return envelopes when voting by mail. 

However, acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman announced that Pennsylvania election officials should continue counting ballots that arrive with improperly filled-out envelopes, in accordance with the Commonwealth Court’s previous ruling on the matter. 

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A voter casts a ballot at a polling location in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 17, 2022.

A voter casts a ballot at a polling location in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 17, 2022.
(Nate Smallwood/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“Every county is expected to include undated ballots in their official returns for the Nov. 8 election, consistent with the Department of State’s guidance,” Chapman wrote. “That guidance followed the most recent ruling of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court holding that both Pennsylvania and federal law prohibit excluding legal votes because the voter omitted an irrelevant date on the ballot return envelope.”

A May 2022 decision in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that ballots in this type of undated envelopes must be counted regardless. In the decision, the panel found that a handwritten date has no bearing on a voter’s eligibility and said it would violate voters’ civil rights to throw out their ballots in that election simply because they lacked a handwritten date.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the prior decision is moot, returning to the established election laws.

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Chapman says the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling does not affect the state’s current election protocol, which will continue accepting and counting the ballots in defective envelopes. She cited a separate, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruling that said such ballots must be accepted.

County officials perform a ballot recount on June 2, 2022, in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

County officials perform a ballot recount on June 2, 2022, in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
(Mark Makela/Getty Images)

“Today’s order from the U.S. Supreme Court vacating the Third Circuit’s decision on mootness grounds was not based on the merits of the issue and does not affect the prior decision of Commonwealth Court in any way,” the acting secretary of state continued. “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.”

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More than half of states now allow no-excuse absentee voting. Pennsylvania joined them in 2019, when Gov. Tom Wolf agreed to a deal that also got rid of the straight-ticket voting by party option on ballots. But many Republicans soured on the law after President Trump claimed mail-in voting was rife with fraud.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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