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Pennsylvania's rule for dating mail-in ballots is considered legal under civil rights law, says appeals court

A federal appeals court panel in Harrisburg stated that the requirement for Pennsylvania voters to correctly write the dates on the outside envelopes of their mail-in ballots does not violate a civil rights law. This decision overturns a previous ruling

A federal appeals court panel in Harrisburg stated that the requirement for Pennsylvania voters to correctly write the dates on the outside envelopes of their mail-in ballots does not violate a civil rights law. This decision overturns a previous ruling by a lower court.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which was divided in its decision, upheld the enforcement of the mandatory date on return envelopes. This technical requirement led to thousands of votes being invalidated in the 2022 election.

While the number of affected voters is small in comparison to the state's total electorate, the court's ruling has drawn further attention to Pennsylvania's election procedures, particularly in light of the upcoming presidential election where the state's Electoral College votes are at stake.

In November, a lower court judge ruled that mail-in ballots should be counted even if they lack the proper dates, as long as they are received on time. U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter stated that the envelope date does not assist election officials in determining if a ballot was received on time or if a voter is qualified.

Judge Thomas Ambro, in the court's opinion, stated that the section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act cited by the lower court does not specifically relate to ballot-casting rules, such as dates on envelopes, but is instead focused on the process of establishing a voter's eligibility to cast a ballot.

According to Ambro, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has mandated that mail-in voters must date the declaration on the return envelope of their ballot to ensure that their vote is effective. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania unanimously affirmed the mandatory nature of this ballot-casting rule, thereby rendering a ballot invalid under Pennsylvania law if it fails to comply.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which assisted groups and voters challenging the date mandate, expressed concern that the ruling could result in the disqualification of thousands of votes over what it deems a trivial error.

Ari Savitzky, a lawyer with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project who presented the appeal, strongly disagreed with the panel majority’s conclusion that voters could be disenfranchised due to a minor paperwork error like forgetting to include an irrelevant date on the return envelope of their mail ballot.

State and national Republican groups supported the date requirement, with the Republican National Committee hailing the decision as a "crucial victory for election integrity and voter confidence."

In Pennsylvania, Democrats have been much more inclined to vote by mail than Republicans following the expansion of mail-in ballots in 2019.

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