In a pair of decisions that voting rights groups celebrated as major victories for democracy, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court late Thursday extended the key battleground state's mail-in ballot deadline and allowed counties to set up secure voting drop boxes in the face of efforts by state Republicans and the Trump campaign to prohibit their use.
The state's high court ruled ballots that arrive at county election offices by 5 pm on Friday, November 6 must be counted as long as they are postmarked by Election Day. The court added that ballots "received within this period that lack a postmark or other proof of mailing, or for which the postmark or other proof of mailing is illegible, will be presumed to have been mailed by Election Day unless a preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that it was mailed after Election Day."
The deadline extension came in response to a lawsuit brought by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party with support from a coalition of voting rights advocates represented by the ACLU, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Public Interest Law Center, and the law firm WilmerHale.
"This ruling is a huge victory for voting rights and for the millions of Pennsylvanians who wish to vote safely in the November election," Sarah Brannon, managing attorney with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said in a statement.
VICTORY: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that, despite the Trump campaign’s efforts, drop boxes will be allowed for voters to return their ballots. The court also extended the mail ballot received deadline to November 6.
— ACLU (@ACLU) September 17, 2020
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Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said the court's decision to permit drop boxes for mail-in ballots—which the Trump campaign and the president himself have baselessly claimed would lead to large-scale fraud—"preserves access to mail voting at a time when it's never been more critical."
"The court's well-reasoned decision protects the right to cast a vote by mail that will count, and it protects voters whose health are at risk due to Covid-19," said Clarke.
In June, the Trump campaign sued Pennsylvania election officials in attempt to block the use of ballot drop boxes, calling them "unconstitutional." A federal judge in Pittsburgh put the Trump campaign's lawsuit on hold last month to allow state courts to rule on the issue.
"Today's ruling is a win for voters," Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement Thursday. "This case has always been about promoting safe access to the ballot for all eligible voters in the commonwealth, and the court understood the importance of lowering barriers to voting."