You didn’t really think it was over, did you?
The Republican Party has appealed a U.S. District Judge’s ruling that mail-in ballots without accurate dates handwritten on their exterior envelopes must still be counted if they are received in time.
Judge Susan Paradise Baxter issued a decision on November 21 that excluding those ballots would violate federal civil rights law.
The GOP disagreed, intervening in the case and appealing to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals based in Philadelphia. Those named in the appeal include the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, according to court records.
The decision to appeal does not come as a surprise, and the 3rd Circuit may not be the final stop, as it is expected that the case could reach the U.S. Supreme Court, as the final word on what are often referred to as “undated ballots” may help determine the outcome of the 2024 presidential race and other key upcoming elections in the Commonwealth.
Baxter’s ruling said that “The Court has concluded that the Commonwealth’s mandatory application of its Date Requirement violates the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act. Since the Court is confident that the Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment should be granted on that basis, there is no need to reach their constitutional claim (and) the Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim will be dismissed.”
The Materiality Provision applies to voter registration as well; lawsuits have challenged the disclosure of Social Security numbers for voter registration purposes and “wet signature” requirements. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the state of Texas in 2021 over its new voter suppression bill for “conditioning the right to cast a mail ballot on a voter’s ability to recall and recite the identification number provided on an application for voter registration months or years before.”
Baxter sided with the plaintiffs in the case. They included Common Cause of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State Conference of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union represented them.
“Every eligible person who casts a ballot should have their vote counted,” Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement on Baxter’s ruling. “The handwritten-date requirement is completely irrelevant and unnecessary because elections officials know whether the ballot was received on time.”
A year ago in the GOP Senate primary, David McCormick invoked the Materiality Provision in a lawsuit in his contest against eventual winner Mehmet Oz. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court granted McCormick’s request, but he conceded the race soon after.
In 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court voided a lower court’s ruling in a similar case over ballots for a Pennsylvania county judge’s race after the Republican candidate conceded. Three of the high court’s conservative justices — Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — have indicated that they’re not convinced that disqualifying ballots for missing handwritten dates violates the Civil Rights Act.