Judge rules Pa. mail-in ballots returned on time with wrong or missing dates must be counted

A federal judge ruled in favor of Pennsylvania voters, holding that mail ballots cannot be thrown out just because a voter fails to date the exterior envelope. This will prevent tens of thousands of voters from being disenfranchised in future elections!

This article originally appeared in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star on November 21, 2023 and was written by Peter Hall.

The following describes the ruling issued on November 21 in favor of voting rights advocates. 

Voters who forget to write the date or put the wrong date on the return envelopes of their mail-in ballots must have their votes counted if the ballots are received by the Election Day deadline, a federal court in western Pennsylvania ruled on Tuesday.

The opinion from Erie-based U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter came in response to a lawsuit by voting rights groups and five individual voters filed after the November 2022 election.

Granting summary judgment in favor of the groups and voters, Baxter found that throwing out ballots over the dating requirement violates a federal law against disenfranchising voters with requirements not material to their qualifications to vote.

“The handwritten-date requirement is completely irrelevant and unnecessary because elections officials know whether the ballot was received on time. And the whole point of this provision in the Civil Rights Act was to stop states from disqualifying votes for frivolous reasons, like this date requirement. We’re grateful that the court understood that,” Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.

The suit was filed by the Pennsylvania State Conference of the NAACP, Black Political Empowerment Project, Common Cause Pennsylvania, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Make The Road Pennsylvania, and POWER Interfaith. The ACLU represented the groups along with the law firm Hogan Lovells.

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