Ballot Bombshell: Court’s Bold Ruling

A Pennsylvania federal appeals court has recently decreed that mail-in ballots lacking precise handwritten dates on their envelopes are to be considered invalid. This decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, made by a 2-1 vote on Wednesday, reverses a previous ruling by a lower court.

The initial decision by the lower court suggested that mail-in ballots should be counted as long as they were submitted on time, regardless of the dating issue. The court labeled the requirement for correct dates as “trivial paperwork” that could disenfranchise voters, a stance that was argued to breach the Materiality Provision of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964. This provision asserts that minor mistakes should not impede the voting process.

However, Judge Thomas Ambro, writing for the federal appeals court, clarified that Pennsylvania law, as established by the state legislature, mandates mail-in voters to date their envelopes for their votes to be counted. This interpretation was reinforced by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s unanimous agreement that the dating requirement is obligatory, thus making non-compliant ballots invalid.

Judge Ambro specified that the Materiality Provision pertains solely to the criteria determining voter eligibility, not the procedural aspects of casting a vote.

The law in question, enacted in 2019, explicitly requires Pennsylvania voters to complete, date, and sign the declaration on their mail-in ballot envelopes.

While advocates for mail-in voting highlight its convenience and accessibility for seniors and individuals with disabilities, some Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, criticize the system for potential election integrity concerns. Trump has particularly criticized mail-in voting as part of his grievances regarding his loss in the 2020 election. Notably, Democratic voters in Pennsylvania have historically been more inclined to utilize mail-in voting compared to their Republican counterparts.

Michael Whatley, the chair of the Republican National Committee, hailed the court’s ruling as a significant triumph for election integrity and voter confidence, both in Pennsylvania and across the country. He criticized efforts to count undated or incorrectly dated mail ballots as unlawful.

Conversely, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which represented parties contesting the date requirement, warned that the ruling could disenfranchise thousands of voters due to a minor clerical error. Mike Lee, the ACLU’s executive director in Pennsylvania, emphasized the importance of the Civil Rights Act in preventing states from establishing unnecessary voting barriers.

The ruling’s implications were highlighted by data showing that over 7,600 mail-in ballots across 12 counties were discarded in the 2022 midterms due to missing or incorrect dates on their envelopes.