Just in time for the midterm elections, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a major victory for election integrity and the rule of law. The court ruled that Commonwealth election officials must follow the law and not count mail-in ballots with missing or incorrect dates on their protective envelopes.
That’s a welcome relief, but left-wing groups are already back in court fighting to block it. It’s a striking reminder that Pennsylvania remains precariously close to a midterm meltdown with national consequences.
After all, the outcome of the Keystone state’s tightly contested senate race carries huge ramifications for control of the upper chamber of Congress. But antiquated procedures and weak safeguards continue to leave Pennsylvania’s election process vulnerable to delays, confusion, mischief and ponderous litigation that could drag the results out for weeks — or longer.
Pennsylvanians are no strangers to ballot box shenanigans and meddling from government officials hellbent on politicizing election laws.
In 2019, the Pennsylvania legislature passed Act 77, which allowed no-excuse mail voting for the first time in the 2020 election. The law required mail-in ballots to be placed in privacy sleeves that are signed and dated by each voter. In other words, a ballot cannot be counted unless it is dated.
The dating requirement, like so many other election rules in Pennsylvania, has been the subject of lengthy litigation. In 2021, a man named David Ritter was on track to win a local election until his opponent sued to force undated ballots to be counted. The Third Circuit agreed, and when the undated ballots were counted Ritter lost by five votes.
But his case continued. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Third Circuit’s ruling, effectively restoring Pennsylvania’s law. Almost immediately, Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Leigh Chapman, an appointee of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, ordered election officials to count undated ballots anyway. Pennsylvania voters and the state Republican Party sued to compel the state to follow its laws.
As the Honest Elections Project pointed out in our amicus brief, requiring voters to date their ballots poses no risk to voting rights and certainly does not violate the Civil Rights Act. The dating requirement is a simple, straightforward rule that helps to stop late and illegal voting without burdening anyone’s right to vote. Election integrity begins by following the law, and this decision is a big win for Pennsylvanians.
But the victory may be short-lived. Pennsylvania’s election code is antiquated. Unlike Georgia, Florida and other states, Pennsylvania has not spent the last two years taking the slack out of its elections. That’s not for lack of trying by lawmakers. Last year, Wolf vetoed a bill full of commonsense ballot integrity requirements.
The measure included highly popular ID requirements, security protocols for drop boxes, permission for family members to return each other’s ballots and preprocessing of mail ballots to speed up tabulation.
In fact, with the exception of a ban on private election funding — Pennsylvania got $22.5 million in 2020 that went disproportionately to 23 Democratic strongholds across the state, plus the Democrat-controlled Pennsylvania Department of State — the Commonwealth has the same election laws it had in 2020. And that means it could have the same election problems.
Chapman has already announced that the Commonwealth will likely not have results on election night, inviting doubt and eroding confidence in the electoral system. And slack in the state’s mail voting laws could lead to more trouble, especially if there is a tight race in which an outcome can be changed by counting late, undated, or otherwise illegal votes.
That is the nightmare scenario. A coalition of left-wing groups are already in federal court attacking the order to set aside undated ballots. If Pennsylvanians choose Dr. Mehmet Oz by a narrow margin, partisan lawyers like Marc Elias may likely demand that courts change the rules to flip the outcome, claiming that not counting illegal ballots is “voter suppression.”
That sets the stage for a hotly contested race — which may decide party control of the Senate — to be decided by judges, and for both sides to claim the election was stolen from them.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Georgia’s election integrity law — wrongfully maligned by Democrats as “Jim Crow 2.0” — is proving to be a counterpoint to Pennsylvania’s chaos.
Early in-person voting and mail-in voting simultaneously shattered Georgia turnout records (including among minority voters) and Democrats’ myth of “voter suppression.” In vetoing Pennsylvania’s election reforms, Wolf said, the bill was “about restricting the freedom to vote.”
Clearly, Georgia’s experience exposes those words to be partisan hogwash.
Hopefully, this will be the last election in Pennsylvania to be marred by delays and confusion. State lawmakers have already crafted Georgia-style reforms that make it easy to vote and hard to cheat. If they get stonewalled once again, we may all pay the price in 2024.
Jason Snead is the Executive Director of Honest Elections Project Action.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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