By MARC LEVY and MARK SCOLFORO Associated Press
State and national Republican parties are suing again in Pennsylvania in an effort to block some mail-in ballots, those that lack the voter’s handwritten date on the return envelope, from being counted in November, when voters will choose a new US Governor and Senator
The GOP’s filing on Sunday night went directly to the state Supreme Court, with Election Day just three weeks away. The court does not have to accept the claim.
“The time for the Court to act is now,” GOP lawyers told the justices in the lawsuit.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration declined to comment but supports counting ballots with undated or incorrectly dated envelopes.
Republicans’ effort to ensure that incorrectly dated or undated ballot envelopes are thrown away could help their candidates in close races across the state.
As of Friday, nearly 1.2 million voters had requested a mail-in ballot, with requests from registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans nearly 4 to 1. In theory, scrapping undated ballots would ensure that remove more Democratic ballots, which would help Republican candidates.
The Wolf administration told counties last week that they are expected to include ballots with undated or incorrectly dated envelopes in their official filings for the Nov. 8 election.
In an email to county officials, a top state elections official wrote that a June state court decision found that “both federal and Pennsylvania law prohibit the exclusion of legal votes because the voter omitted an irrelevant date in the ballot return envelope, and that decision is still good law. .”
The new lawsuit is the latest twist in a legal fight over a provision of the state’s sweeping 2019 mail-in voting law that Republicans say required voters to date the ballot return envelope.
The fight has already reached the US Supreme Court and the state Supreme Court, producing conflicting conclusions on more specific issues in each.
Democrats have argued that discarding a voter’s ballot because it isn’t properly dated violates their civil rights, and that the provision is useless anyway because mail-in ballots are supposed to be postmarked and then date and timed. of the receiving county. They say the law doesn’t make sense of a date requirement, anyway.
Some Democratic-controlled counties have pushed to count ballots with undated envelopes, and the Wolf administration, following lower court rulings on the matter, successfully sued to force counties to tabulate them in the May primary.
The state Supreme Court never considered the case cited by state election officials in last week’s guidance to counties because the plaintiff, failed Republican US Senate primary candidate David McCormick, withdrew it. .
Even before that, the state Supreme Court, in a 2020 decision, agreed that the Legislature had intended to require that ballot envelopes be dated, a decision cited by the Republican plaintiffs in the new case.
But the lower court judge in the June decision, Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer, said the state Supreme Court did not receive the same arguments she heard.
In his opinion, “the absence of a handwritten date on the outer envelope could be considered a ‘minor irregularity’ with no compelling reason justifying the disenfranchisement of eligible voters by not counting their timely received ballot,” he wrote.
Last week, the US Supreme Court found moot a May decision by the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit that applied to the counting of votes in a judicial race in Lehigh County last year. . That means the case cannot be cited as precedent.
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