An already messy battle in Pennsylvania over mail-in ballots stepped up on Friday, with the NAACP and an alliance of other voting rights group filing a lawsuit to insist certain votes should be counted. The issue at hand is whether a state law says that mail-in votes can be counted if they have a valid date written on the outside of the envelope they arrive in—regardless of whether they arrive on time.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court deadlocked over whether the law violated voting protections in the Civil Rights Act, but they did vote to set aside the mail-in ballots that arrive without the proper date. That decision arose from a lawsuit filed by the Republican National Commission seeking to limit the mail-in ballots that could be counted.
The NAACP’s lawsuit says the decision to set aside and possibly not count those ballots that lack the correct date means that potentially thousands of votes won’t be counted over what the lawsuit describes as “a meaningless technicality” and a “trivial paperwork error.” The presence of the correct date on the outside of the envelope a ballot arrives in has nothing to do with the validity of the vote inside, the lawsuit argues.
Pennsylvania law says that mail-in ballots can be sent at any point, and the local county board of elections is responsible for deciding whether they arrive on time. The board then stamps eligible ballots with a date indicating it was timely—means that “the presence or absence of a handwritten date on the envelope is utterly immaterial to determining whether the ballot was timely received, much less to assessing a voter’s qualifications.”
The issue is particularly important in Pennsylvania, where the battle for the open US Senate seat between John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz is a toss-up, according to polls. Oz beat his primary opponent by less than 1,000 votes in the GOP primary earlier this year. Prior to the 2020 election, mail-in voting was often favored by Republican voters, but former president Donald Trump attacked the method, saying it led to fraud. While in the last election, the number of voters in Pennsylvania who voted by mail was evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, this year 70 percent of requests for mail-in ballots came from registered Democrats.