Approves use of ballot drop boxes
Thursday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended the state’s absentee ballot deadline and approved the use of ballot drop boxes.
The case, which was brought by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, is similar to another one being litigated in federal court, which was put on pause while the state’s supreme court considered the matter. The federal case, essentially a reverse of the state case, was brought by President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee.
Battles over voting rules have taken on a heightened significance amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced states to adjust to millions more voters casting ballots by mail.
The legal fight in Pennsylvania is particularly fierce, given the state’s role in possible paths to victory for Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee. Trump won the state in 2016, marking the first Republican victory there in a presidential race since 1988.
The state supreme court’s ruling pushed the deadline for receiving absentee ballots to Nov. 6, or three days after Election Day, if they are postmarked by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. It also held that the election code permitted drop boxes for submitting mail-in ballots.
The previous deadline for receiving absentee ballots was 8 p.m. on Election Day, but Democrats argued that enforcing that deadline would lead to widespread voter disenfranchisement given the pandemic and delays with the United States Postal Service.
The court also agreed with Democrats that a state requirement that poll watchers live in the county where they serve is constitutional.
The court ruling, authored by Justice Max Baer, did contain some bad news for Democrats. It rejected their argument that election boards should have to notify voters whose ballots contained minor defects to allow them to “cure” the errors.
The court also rejected the argument from Democrats that so-called “naked ballots,” or those that are submitted with no outer envelope shielding the ballot, should be counted.
So the political victory here goes to…
Following the ruling, both sides claimed partial victories. Marc Elias, a lawyer fighting on behalf of the Democratic Party in a number of suits around the country, said on Twitter that the ruling was “a very good result for those of us fighting for voting rights.”
Trump took to Twitter to cheer the win for Republicans on ballot curing, and touted a separate case, also decided Thursday by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, that rejected a request by four retired Pennsylvania voters to allow for third-party assistance in returning their mail-in ballots. Trump has labeled the practice ballot “harvesting,” although others call it ballot collection.
“Waiting for the BIG Federal decisions in Pennsylvania, Nevada, and elsewhere!” he wrote.
The Pennsylvania Inquirer is under the impression that the decision is a huge boon to the Democrats electoral prospects:
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday issued rulings that could make it easier for people to vote by mail, steps likely to aid Democrat Joe Biden’s prospects and increase the likelihood that results in the critical battleground state won’t be known for days after Election Day.
In three decisions less than seven weeks before the Nov. 3 election, the Democratic-controlled high court extended the deadline for mail ballots to be returned, ruled that voters can use drop boxes to return them, and removed the Green Party’s presidential ticket from the ballot.
The changes will likely allow tens of thousands more mail ballots to be counted than would have been accepted previously. Democrats are expected to vote by mail in disproportionate numbers this fall compared with Republicans, who, interviews and polls show, have been turned off from doing so following President Donald Trump’s false attacks on the method as susceptible to widespread fraud.
“It really makes the access to voting better,” Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday, “and so I welcome the decision.”
The ruling allowing mail ballots to be counted if they arrive by the Friday after Election Day has the potential to create a historic cliffhanger as the nation awaits Pennsylvania’s results. The state is one of a handful likely to decide the presidential race, and if the Pennsylvania contest is as close as expected, the winner might not be known until those ballots are tallied.
Of course if not for Covid lockdowns, none of this would be necessary. But that’s a separate discussion altogether.DONATE
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