Now that the Commonwealth Court has made a ruling against Act 77, what’s next for the legislation that approved vote-by-mail in Pennsylvania?
Today’s decision sets the stage for the state Supreme Court, which is dominated by Democrats, to take up the matter. GOP efforts to scale back the law were largely rejected by the high court in 2020. When the Wolf administration appeals – it announced today that it would – the law will remain in place until a ruling is made.
“The Administration will immediately appeal this decision to the state Supreme Court and today’s lower court ruling will have no immediate effect on mail-in voting pending a final decision on the appeal,” the Administration said in a statement.
Act 77 was adopted on October 31, 2019, when Governor Wolf signed the legislation into law after it was approved by the Republican-controlled legislature. Eleven of the 14 plaintiffs in today’s case voted for the measure. Only David H. Zimmerman (R-99) voted in opposition.
If the Commonwealth Court’s ruling were to stand, the following would be in effect:
- No voting by mail-in ballot, unless you qualify as an absentee voter.
- The deadline to register to vote is 30 days prior to the election vs. 15 days.
- Straight-Party Voting.
- Stickers to Vote for Write-In Candidates.
- Circulators of nomination petitions must be residents of the election district where they circulate petitions.
- Counties may alter a voting district.
- Counties no longer must print at least 10 percent more ballots than the greatest number of ballots cast in the last three elections of the same type (Election types include municipal primary, midterm, general, etc.)
- Absentee ballots are sent to polling places to be counted there.
In making its determination in a 3-2 vote, the Commonwealth Court judges said that the state constitution requires voters to appear at polling places on Election Day, unless they have “duties, occupation, or business” that allows them to use absentee voting.
No-excuse mail voting is not explicitly spelled out in the constitution, and thus would require a constitutional amendment to be lawful.
If the state Supreme Court were to uphold the Commonwealth Court’s ruling, there could be an effort to amend the constitution to allow for mail-in voting. Constitutional amendments, unlike traditional bills such as Act 77, must first be approved by the state legislature in two consecutive sessions. After passing that threshold, the measure appears on the ballot for voters to have the final say.
The earliest a ballot question could be placed on the ballot would be during the 2023 primary if it passes the 2021-22 and 2023-24 sessions.
Republican gubernatorial candidate and Senate president pro tempore Jake Corman said today in a statement, “After what occurred in the 2020 and 2021 elections, I have no confidence in the no-excuse mail in ballot provisions. There is no doubt that we need a stronger election law than the one we have in place today.”
Just over 2.5 million people voted under the law’s expansion of mail-in voting in 2020′s presidential election, most of them Democrats, out of 6.9 million total cast.