Appeals court rules that undated or incorrectly dated ballots should not be counted in Pennsylvania

Mar 28, 2024 | Political News

A federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday that mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania that arrive on time but do not have a date or have an incorrect date should not be counted.

According to the Pennsylvanian Capital-Star, the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in favor of date verification in the state, overturning a lower court’s ruling on the matter.

The issue at the center of the case is whether not counting undated ballots violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that a person’s right to vote can’t be denied for an error or omission “on any record or paper relating to any application, registration, or other act requisite to voting,” unless it is material in determining a person’s qualification to vote.

Senior US Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro wrote in the decision, “Because the date decision is irrelevant to whether a vote is received timely, the blink response is to believe a voter’s failure to date a return envelope should not cause his ballot to be disqualified.”

Ambro, who was nominated by Bill Clinton, added that the date requirement “serves little apparent purpose,” but noted that since the state’s Supreme Court ruled that dating the envelopes was mandatory, “undated or misdated ballots are invalid under state law and must be set aside.”

Judge Patty Shwartz warned voters in her dissenting opinion to carefully check their ballots or risk them not being counted.

“If they do not, they risk having their otherwise valid votes discounted based on even the most inconsequential mistake,” Shwartz, who was nominated by Barack Obama, wrote.

“One can only hope that election officials do not capitalize on the Majority’s narrow interpretation of the Materiality Provision by enacting unduly technical and immaterial post-registration paperwork requirements that could silence the voices of qualified voters.”

The ruling sets up a potential Supreme Court battle.

A lawsuit was filed by the Republican National Committee following Act 77 taking effect in 2020, known as Pennsylvania’s no-excuse absentee voting law. 

In 2022, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that ballots where the date was not written or incorrect should be rejected. Then a federal district court, on appeal, ruled in November of 2023 that all ballots received by election day, regardless of the dating on the envelope, should be counted.

In a statement, newly-elected RNC Chairman Michael Whatley celebrated the appeals court’s decision.

“This is a crucial victory for election integrity and voter confidence in the Keystone State and nationwide. Pennsylvanians deserve to feel confident in the security of their mail ballots, and this 3rd Circuit ruling roundly rejects unlawful left-wing attempts to count undated or incorrectly dated mail ballots. Republicans will continue to fight and win for election integrity in courts across the country ahead of the 2024 election.”