Justices keep mail-in voting in Pa., for now

The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting law will remain in place, at least for the near future, despite a state judge’s order that would have made it expire in two weeks, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The justices issued a one-paragraph order that overturned a Feb. 16 decision by Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt that would have pulled the plug on the state’s 2-year-old voting law.

The Supreme Court plans to hold oral argument Tuesday regarding the legal challenge to the law. The justices’ decision to invalidate Leavitt’s order gives themselves more time to rule without facing a one-week deadline.

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The law stays in place, pending further action by the high court.

The administration of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf asked the Supreme Court last week to keep the law intact during the litigation, arguing that stopping mail-in voting ahead of the spring primary “would ... exacerbate voter confusion and the danger of disenfranchisement.”

Pennsylvania ended most restrictions against mail-in voting in 2019 as part of a deal in which Republican legislative leaders obtained an end to straight-ticket voting.

FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2020, file photo, Chester County election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots for the 2020 United States general election at West Chester University in West Chester, Pa. On Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, the Pennsylvania GOP scheduled an hour-long presentation on the Republican "investigation" into the 2020 presidential election at the party's closed-press winter meeting in Lancaster, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

Democrats have used the mail-in option far more than have Republicans during the pandemic. Many of the Republicans in the General Assembly who voted for the 2019 law now oppose it, including 11 of the plaintiffs in the current legal challenge.

Leavitt and two fellow GOP judges ruled in January that no-excuse mail-in voting is prohibited under the state Constitution. Two Democrats dissented, saying the constitution permits no excuse under a provision stating that elections “shall be by ballot or by such other method as may be prescribed by law.”

As of August, nearly 1.4 million Pennsylvania voters were signed up for permanent mail-in voting notification.