PENNSYLVANIA

Pennsylvania high court takes undated ballot case, doesn't halt ballot curing

Mark Scolforo
Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania's high court on Friday ruled in favor of “ballot curing” in which some counties contact voters to correct errors in mail-in ballots and agreed to again consider whether mail-in ballots have to be counted even if they arrive with incorrect or missing handwritten dates on their outer envelopes.

Republicans had failed to persuade a lower-court judge to issue an injunction in time to prevent ballot curing ahead of the Nov. 8 election, and a 3-3 high court deadlock kept that decision in place.

In a separate case, the state Supreme Court granted a request by the Republican National Committee, the state party and several voters who sued several days ago, asking it to clarify the issue of undated ballot envelopes.

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York County Sheriff's Deputies Paul Stoner, left, and Jim Ring move the county drop off box inside the York County Administrative Center after the 8 p.m. voting deadline Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. The box had been moved outside to accommodate drive-up ballot-casting. Bill Kalina photo

The court agreed to fast-track consideration of the ballot envelopes issue, a matter that became complicated earlier this month when the U.S. Supreme Court deemed moot a 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision saying that despite a provision in state law, the dates aren't mandatory. That means the case can’t be cited as precedent.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has told counties they should count ballots with undated or improperly dated envelopes. The dates are not needed to ensure ballots have arrived in time — counties time stamp them and many are also postmarked.

Far more Democrats than Republicans have been voting by mail since a 2019 law greatly expanded who may use them.

A top state elections official emailed county officials this month to say a June state court decision found that “both Pennsylvania and federal law prohibit excluding legal votes because the voter omitted an irrelevant date on the ballot return envelope, and that decision remains good law.”

The justices in an unsigned order on Friday set out a compressed time schedule for the parties to file briefs early next week on whether the Republican groups and voters have legal standing to bring the case, whether the envelope dates are mandatory under state law and if so, if that would violate provisions of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In the ballot curing case, the justices did not issue an opinion. The legal case attacking ballot curing is not over, but the new decision permits the practice for now.

Since mail-in ballots have become much more widely used, some counties have been contacting voters to fix problems such as missing signatures, while others have not. Republicans want to prevent the practice in all 67 counties.

Three Democratic justices were in favor: Christine Donohue, Kevin Dougherty and David Wecht. Both Republicans, Sallie Mundy and Kevin Brobson, voted no, along with Democratic Chief Justice Debra Todd. In cases of a tie, a lower-court decision stands. The court is one justice short with the recent death of Justice Max Baer.