Writing the wrong date on your Pennsylvania mail-in ballot could throw your vote out, judges rule
Writing the wrong date on your Pennsylvania mail-in ballot could throw your vote out, judges rule

PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) — A panel of federal judges ruled Wednesday to uphold the enforcement of mail-in ballot dates in Pennsylvania.

A divided 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it is permissible for Pennsylvania to require correct handwritten dates on the outer envelopes of mail-in ballots, overturning a lower court ruling that favored voting rights advocates — who argued , that casting ballots with the wrong dates was a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The ruling in NAACP v. Schmidt brings back a technical mandate that caused thousands of votes to be declared invalid in the 2022 elections. The state said many voters wrote their date of birth on the envelope when they should have written the date before Election Day when they filled out the ballot.

The total number of rejected votes is a small fraction of the large state’s electorate, but the court’s decision puts extra scrutiny on Pennsylvania’s election procedures over those in the battleground state the primary election will be held on April 23.

How to Correctly Fill Out a Pennsylvania Vote-By-Mail Ballot

In the video above, Montgomery County Director of Voter Services Dori Sawyer shows you how to properly fill out a vote-by-mail ballot. Once voters have made their choice, they are required to:

  • Place the ballot in an inner protective envelope
  • Place this envelope inside the outer envelope with the signature and date fields
  • Sign and date the ballot correctly – with the date you filled it in, not your date of birth
  • Mail it to your county election office (no postage required) – or if it’s too close to Election Day, your county may offer a mail-in ballot box

The ruling is the latest in a legal battle over the dates on those mail-in ballot envelopes.

A the lower court judge had ruled in November that even without the correct dates, mailed ballots must be counted if received on time. U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter said the date on the envelope is irrelevant in helping election officials decide whether a ballot was received on time or whether a voter qualified.

But in the appeals court opinion, Judge Thomas Ambro said the section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 relied on by the lower court did not apply to voting rules in general, such as the dates on envelopes, but “applies only to the process of determining a voter’s right to vote.”

“The Pennsylvania General Assembly has decided that mail-in voters must date the declaration on the return envelope of their ballot for their vote to be effective,” Ambro wrote. “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has unanimously held that this voting rule is binding; thus, failure to comply renders the ballot invalid under Pennsylvania law.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which helped represent groups and voters who challenged the date mandate, argued that the Civil Rights Act “prohibits voter disqualification due to paperwork errors on required forms that are not relevant to electability to the voters”.

In a statement, the ACLU said the ruling could mean thousands of votes won’t be counted because of what it called a senseless error.

“We strongly disagree with the panel majority’s conclusion that voters can be disenfranchised because of a minor clerical error, such as forgetting to write an inappropriate date on the return envelope of their mail-in ballot,” Ari Sawicki, an attorney with the project for voting rights of the ACLU, which claims appeal, said in a statement.

The groups did not immediately say whether they would further challenge the ruling.

“We are currently considering all of our options,” Sawicki added.

Common Cause Pennsylvania issued this statement regarding the decision:

“This decision means that counties will be allowed to throw out ballots that were submitted on time for reasons that are not relevant to voters’ right to vote. We are disheartened by this decision and maintain our position that every voter who makes an effort to participate should have their vote counted. But our work will continue regardless. While this decision will undoubtedly have a negative impact on older voters and voters of color, we will work with partners to ensure that Pennsylvania voters know how to make sure their votes count.”

State and national Republican groups defended the date requirement, and the Republican National Committee called the decision “a decisive victory for election integrity and voter confidence.”

in Pennsylvania, Democrats are much more likely to vote by mail than Republicans in the expansion of postal voting ballots introduced in 2019.

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