Court Orders Three Pennsylvania Counties to Count Undated Ballots

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court on Friday ordered three counties to tally undated absentee ballots that county officials previously declined to count.

Republican Commonwealth Court President Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer issued the ruling affecting Berks, Fayette and Lancaster counties. Last month, Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman (D) sued the three jurisdictions to compel them to include votes delivered in undated envelopes in their May 17 primary results. 

“… The Court concludes that Petitioners have established a right to summary relief on their declaratory judgment and injunction claim, based on both Pennsylvania and federal law … ,” Jubelirer wrote in her judgement. “Accordingly, the lack of a handwritten date on the declaration on the return envelope of a timely received absentee or mail-ballot does not support excluding those ballots from the Boards’ certified results under both Pennsylvania law and Section 10101(a)(2)(B) of the Civil Rights Act.”

State law requiring absentee and mail-in voters to date their ballot envelopes has been repeatedly litigated over the last two years. In 2020, the state’s Democrat-led Supreme Court deemed valid 2,349 undated ballots in a race between incumbent state Senator Jim Brewster (D-Monroeville) and GOP candidate Nicole Ziccarelli, effectively deciding the race for Brewster. A concurring opinion nonetheless indicated that such votes could be discounted in future elections. 

This May, Pennsylvania courts found that undated ballots should not cont in a race last year for Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas. A panel of Third Circuit Court judges however reversed that ruling. Shortly thereafter, the Commonwealth Court ruled that undated ballots must count in the GOP Senate primary between Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick, a ruling that did not ultimately threaten Oz’s nomination victory. 

Pennsylvania’s Department of State and advocates of less-stringent election rules generally welcomed the Commonwealth Court’s ballot-counting order.

“We are pleased that the Court has affirmed that under federal and Pennsylvania law, these three county boards of elections cannot refuse to certify undated ballots,” the department said in a statement. 

Counsel for Fayette County indicated it is reviewing this decision in preparation for a possible appeal to the state supreme court.

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “View of the Voting Office During Ballots Counting” by MONUSCO Photos. CC BY-SA 2.0.


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