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A voter mails in a ballot

A voter casts his early voting ballot at a drop box outside City Hall on October 17, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)

'Egregious': Pennsylvania Court Strikes Down Mail-In Voting Law

The ruling was stayed pending an appeal to the state's Supreme Court and as one voting advocate put it: "The fight's not over yet, folks."

Julia Conley

A sweeping Pennsylvania voting rights law that won praise from across the political spectrum when it was passed in 2019 was struck down by a state court Friday after Republican lawmakers—several of whom had voted for the law—claimed it unlawfully helped President Joe Biden to win the state in 2020.

"This must not stand and I look forward to an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme to correct this egregious ruling."

The conservative-leaning Commonwealth Court ruled 3-2 that Act 77 is unconstitutional, reasoning that an 1838 amendment to the state constitution says Pennsylvanians must vote in person on Election Day unless they meet certain criteria. The rule must be overturned by the adoption of a new amendment, said the court.

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the court's ruling "is based on twisted logic and faulty reasoning, and is wrong on the law."

Act 77 will remain in effect for the time being, as the Pennsylvania State Department responded to the Commonwealth Court's decision by promptly appealing the case to the state Supreme Court, automatically placing a stay on the ruling.

But voting rights advocates warned that another ruling in favor of the 14 Republicans who sued over the law after former President Donald Trump lost Pennsylvania in the 2020 election would have dire consequences for democracy.

The ruling is "without merit and a partisan attack on voting in Pennsylvania," tweeted Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Penn.). "This must not stand and I look forward to an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme to correct this egregious ruling."

Passed by a Republican state legislature and signed into law by a Democratic governor, Act 77 permits Pennsylvania to vote by mail or absentee ballot without providing a reason. It also invested $90 million in election infrastructure upgrades, created a permanent list of mail-in voters, and reduced the voter registration deadline to 15 days from 30 days before an election.

Eleven of the 14 Republicans who asked the state Supreme Court to invalidate mail-in ballots after the 2020 election, claiming Act 77 was unconstitutional, voted for the law in 2019. Two of the lawmakers were not in office at the time and one voted against it.

"Unsatisfied with the results of that wager, they would now flip over the table, scattering to the shadows the votes of millions of Pennsylvanians," state Supreme Court Justice David Wecht wrote in an opinion in November 2020, rejecting the lawmakers' claim that Act 77 is unconstitutional. "Courts should not decide elections when the will of the voters is clear."

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