GOP’s Pennsylvania Mail-In Ballot Case Dismissed by Democrat Judge

By Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje
Beth Brelje is a national, investigative journalist covering politics, wrongdoing, and the stories of everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances. Send her your story ideas:
March 24, 2023Updated: March 27, 2023

A Pennsylvania judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Republican entities about how counties should handle improperly marked mail-in ballots, saying the statewide Commonwealth Court doesn’t have subject matter jurisdiction over the claims against 67 individual county boards of elections.

The case stems from a passionate statewide dispute over how counties should handle certain mail-in ballots.

In Pennsylvania, state law requires voters to sign and date the outer envelope of their mail-in ballot for it to be counted. Still, many mail-in ballots are returned to the county without a signature or proper date, meaning the ballots are improper and can’t be counted according to state election code.

That rule was hotly contested in court just before the 2022 midterm election, with Democrats calling for the counting of illegal ballots as Republicans said the election code should prevail and that wrongly marked mail-in ballots shouldn’t be counted.

Then-Acting Pennsylvania Secretary of State Leigh Chapman directed all counties to include undated ballots in their official returns for the Nov. 8 election.

Pennsylvania Judge Ellen Ceisler, a Democrat, said in her decision last week that the secretary of state doesn’t have authority over the matter for individual counties.

The state Supreme Court ordered county boards of elections to refrain from counting any undated or incorrectly dated absentee and mail-in ballots for the Nov. 8 election, but to segregate and preserve these ballots.

Some counties followed the state Supreme Court directive, while other counties began reaching out to voters with improper envelopes and inviting them to go to the county office and correct the problem so their ballot would count.

Republicans argued that is canvassing ballots early. By law, counties must keep ballots secure until 7 a.m. on Election Day, when they can start counting mail-in ballots.

Election Code

A petition from a host of Republican entities was filed in Commonwealth Court, naming Pennsylvania’s individual county boards of elections. The petition was brought by the Republican National Committee (RNC), the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, and some individual Republicans. The RNC is no longer a party in the case, according to Thomas King III, attorney for the Republican Party of Pennsylvania.

Republicans asked the court to declare that boards of elections may not take it upon themselves to adopt and implement ballot cure procedures, since that’s the role of the General Assembly.

“Implementation of such procedures directly violates the Election Code’s various pre-canvassing and provisional ballot provisions; that the furnishing of voters’ personally identifying information to political party representatives, candidates, and/or special interest groups violates voters’ constitutional right to informational privacy,” Republicans argued in court papers.

“The acting secretary has issued guidance directing the county boards to engage in pre-canvass activities under the guise of making ‘administrative determinations’ and statements encouraging the boards to contact voters whose defective ballots have been cancelled due to errors on the ballots’ outer envelopes so they may have the opportunity to have their votes count.”

It’s illegal, Republicans say, because absentee and mail-in ballots must be kept in sealed or locked containers until Election Day by law, and county boards are prohibited from doing anything else with the ballots until then.

“We’re analyzing the decision,” King told The Epoch Times. “We have a right to appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Whether we will or not, I don’t know.”

Pennsylvania Democratic Party officials didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.