Nov 08, 2022
John Fetterman's U.S. Senate campaign joined Democratic groups on Monday in suing to override a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision barring state election officials from counting absentee and mail-in ballots that lack a correct date on the outer envelope, a technicality with potentially huge implications for the battleground's razor-close midterm races.
Filed in federal court on the eve of Election Day, the lawsuit argues that a Pennsylvania state law requiring voters to date the outer envelopes of absentee ballots "has no relevance to determining whether an individual is qualified to vote, in violation of the Civil Rights Act, and serves no purpose other than to erect barriers to qualified voters exercising their fundamental constitutional right."
"We are committed to using every tool at our disposal to protect Pennsylvanians' constitutional right to participate in this election."
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's ruling last week came in response to a Republican lawsuit aiming to disqualify undated or incorrectly dated ballots, part of a nationwide wave of legal challenges that GOP groups are pursuing on the false pretense of combating "voter fraud."
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) joined the Fetterman campaign on the lawsuit, which aims to ensure ballots aren't tossed due to minor, inconsequential errors. The Pennsylvania State Department has estimated that at least 7,000 ballots have been rejected across the commonwealth because of missing dates and other mistakes--though the actual figure could be in the tens of thousands.
The suit asks the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Erie Division to enjoin state counties from refusing to count ballots over a missing envelope date.
"As we fight this latest Republican attack on Americans' democratic rights, Pennsylvanians should check their ballot status to ensure their vote is counted," DSCC executive director Christie Roberts, DCCC executive director Tim Persico, and Fetterman campaign manager Brendan McPhillips said in a joint statement. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal to protect Pennsylvanians' constitutional right to participate in this election, including defeating the GOP in court."
The trio pointed voters to a Pennsylvania government website that allows residents to track the status of their mail-in and absentee ballots.
The new lawsuit came as voting rights groups scrambled to notify Pennsylvania residents whose ballots have been rejected because of minor mistakes. Republican groups have tried unsuccessfully to prohibit counties from notifying voters whose ballots were rejected due to the lack of a correct date or other small technical errors, but some Pennsylvania counties have still declined to release information on how many ballots have been rejected and opted against informing impacted voters.
"Thousands of Pennsylvanians could be disenfranchised through no fault of their own because they understandably relied on the fact that their vote would count even if they did not write a date (or wrote the wrong date) on the outside envelope of their mail-in or absentee ballot, an error that disproportionately impacts senior citizen voters," All Voting Is Local Pennsylvania wrote in a letter to county election officials Monday night.
"This mass disenfranchisement of blameless voters runs directly counter to the well-established principle that election rules should not be changed so close to an election so as to effectively invalidate the ballots of voters who relied on the prior rules," the letter continued, citing Pennsylvania court decisions ahead of previous elections.
Leigh Chapman, Pennsylvania's acting secretary of state, is encouraging voters who believe they may have made a mistake to contact their local election office. If a voter's county won't let them fix their error, Chapman recommends requesting a provisional ballot.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has also weighed in on the case, arguing that "no voter should be disenfranchised simply because they made a minor error in filling out their ballot."
"I encourage all counties to communicate with voters who have submitted ballots with minor but potentially disqualifying errors as soon as possible and allow them to address those errors so their voices can be heard," Wolf said in a statement Sunday.
More than a million Pennsylvanians submitted absentee or mail-in ballots ahead of Election Day in a state that features several high-profile and consequential races, including one that could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate. Democratic voters are more likely to vote early as GOP candidates and former President Donald Trump launch baseless attacks on mail-in and absentee voting, urging their supporters to vote in person on Election Day instead.
The Washington Postreported Monday that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision to side with Republicans and block the counting of ballots without a correct date on the envelope "triggered a sprawling volunteer-run effort to make sure voters who had already returned their ballots knew that their votes would not count if they didn't take action" to remedy any mistakes.
"Nowhere has that effort been more intense than in Philadelphia," the Post noted. "On Saturday, city officials published the names of more than 2,000 voters who had returned defective ballots and urged them to come to City Hall to cast a new ballot in the few days remaining before Election Day. Community activists and volunteers for the Democratic Party and the Working Families Party began calling, texting, and knocking on people's doors to get the word out."
"On Monday, the line to cast a replacement vote at City Hall snaked outside and into the building's courtyard as volunteers supplied snacks and bottled water," the newspaper added.
This story has been updated to include a letter from All Voting Is Local Pennsylvania.
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