Supreme Court case may determine winner of Pennsylvania GOP Senate primary

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PHILADELPHIA (TAUT) — Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito agreed on Tuesday to temporarily block a lower court ruling that allows the counting of undated ballots in Pennsylvania in a case that could directly swing a court race and also impact the Commonwealth US Senate Republican primary.

Alito, who has jurisdiction over the lower court involved in the case, issued an administrative stay in the case to give judges more time to consider the matter.

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The case comes as the Supreme Court returns to electoral politics. This is a federal appeals court decision ordering the state to count the originally voided undated mail-in ballots.

David Ritter, Republican candidate for state bench in Lehigh County, wants the Supreme Court to block the appeals court’s decision, arguing that if the ballots were counted, he would lose his election to his Democratic rival Zachary Cohen.

How the justices decide the case in the under-the-radar race could also impact more high-profile contests, including the Republican Senate primary between David McCormick and Mehmet Oz, which has been subject to a recount.

Oz is currently in the lead with around 900 votes.

The case has sparked the interest of voting rights experts because it pits state election law against federal law and raises questions about when voters can be disenfranchised for making voting mistakes. vote that some ultimately deem “insignificant” in determining the validity of the ballot. This comes as the last election cycle was one of the most contentious in recent history.

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“In this case, voters forgot to date their ballots, but their ballots arrived on time and we know they were timely,” said University of California Irvine election law expert Rick Hasen. . Hasen noted that the state ultimately accepted the ballots when the voter entered the wrong date.

The current dispute in court dates back to 2019, when the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted new provisions for mail-in voting. To receive the mail-in ballot, the voter must complete an application, provide their name, address and proof of identity. If the material matches the registration information, the voter receives a ballot with instructions for completing the absentee ballot.

Under Pennsylvania’s election code, the voter must date and sign the declaration printed on the return envelope. Delivery is prompt if received by the Elections Office by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

The Lehigh County Board of Elections held an election on November 2, 2021 to fill vacancies for the position of judge of the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas. During the count, the council canceled 257 of the 22,000 votes because they lacked a handwritten date next to the voter declaration. All ballots were received by the 8 p.m. TAUT. The board initially decided to count the votes, but Ritter challenged the decision in state court. The trial court ruled for Cohen, but the Commonwealth Court reversed on appeal. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined to overturn the decision.

The decision triggered a handful of voters whose ballots were spoiled to sue in federal court. Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, they argued, in part, that the state’s dating requirement violates a “materiality” provision of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits denying the right to vote on the basis of an error considered “insignificant”. The voters lost at the district court level, but the 3rd United States Circuit Court of Appeals overturned and ordered that the undated ballots be counted.

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“Ignoring ballots because the outer envelope was undated, even though the ballot was unquestionably received before the voting TAUT serves no purpose other than to deprive otherwise qualified voters” , the appeals court said.

Ritter appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. Cameron T. Norris, an attorney for Ritter, argued that the appeals court’s reasoning will serve as a “green light for the federal courts to rewrite dozens of state election laws across the country,” including laws requiring voters to date and sign a declaration, place their vote in a secret envelope and have their signature witnessed or notarized.

Norris pointed out that these basic requirements for mail-in voting are “important measures of electoral integrity given the increased risk of fraud posed by mail-in voting” and that lower courts are divided on the meaning of the federal law. on materiality.

Ari Savitzky, an ACLU lawyer representing voters, urged the Supreme Court to stay out of the dispute, arguing that the court should maintain the status quo and allow the counting of ballots – initially reduced due to a “insignificant paperwork error”.

“The handwritten date is so insignificant that the Board of Elections has accepted ballots where voters wrote any date on the return envelope, even dates from decades ago,” said Savitzky to judges in legal documents. “The county clerk claimed he would have accepted envelope dates from the future. Yet voters who mistakenly omitted the date from the envelope were disenfranchised,” he said. He noted that the Board of Elections does not support the request to freeze the decision of the Court of Appeal.

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The decision of the appeals court had already reverberated throughout the state.

Not only would that change the outcome of Ritter’s 2021 race, it fell just days after Pennsylvania’s 2022 primary elections, many of which were decided by narrow margins.

Indeed, McCormick is citing the 3rd Circuit ruling to argue that counties should count all undated ballots in its close race.

John M. Gore, an Oz attorney, meanwhile filed a “friend of the court” brief with the Supreme Court supporting Ritter and criticizing the appeals court’s decision.

Oz’s attorney called the appeals court’s decision “slightly reasoned” and said it was now “armed to undermine the apparent outcome of a statewide primary election for the Republican nomination to represent Pennsylvania in the United States Senate”.

He warned the judges that if the appeal court’s decision were upheld, it would erode public confidence and create “confusion among voters”.

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(The-TAUT-Wire™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia company. All rights reserved.)

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