A Pennsylvania court has ruled against the Republican Party, allowing election officials to cure ballots with errors before Election Day.
The Monroe County Republican Party filed an injunction with the court last week that requested that county election workers should be barred from contacting voters with errors or omissions on their mail-in ballots and allowing them the opportunity to fix them before Election Day. The county’s practice began when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled unanimously, forcing election officials to set aside ballots that contained date-related errors instead of counting them as if they were correct.
In the Monroe County GOP’s request last week, aided by Pennsylvania GOP’s counsel Tom King, the party contended that inspection of these flawed ballots constituted a “pre-canvass” of the votes. The act of pre-canvassing essentially amounts to an audit of the cast ballots whether it be inspection, tallying, or opening the ballots – such processes are illegal according to PA state law as ballots are supposed to be kept in a secure location until Election Day.
King told Fox News Digital that officials are, “scrounging through the ballots, looking to see if they can find ones that need to be fixed. And then they’re calling voters to tell them to either come fix them or … vote provisionally at a polling place. None of this complies with Pennsylvania law.”
The court refused the ruling Republicans were seeking, stating that, per the Supreme Court’s precedent, where voting laws are vague or ambiguous, the courts should not take action that would disenfranchise voters.
“Given that our Supreme Court’s policy has been to enfranchise the voter when interpreting ambiguous statutes and considering the Commonwealth Court’s recent decision on this very subject, I find that MCRC has not shown a strong likelihood of success at this very early stage of litigation,” wrote Monroe County Court of Common Pleas Judge Arthur L. Zulick.
Zulick added that implementing the proposed restrictions so close to Election Day would cause more harm “than refusing it,” and suggested that as the process was already underway, action taken to disallow the practice would “adversely affect the public interest.”
“I do not find that MCRC has a clear right to relief in view of the recent Commonwealth Court decision, and I find that at this point after 150 to 175 voters have been advised that their ballot has been canceled and that they have an opportunity to file a correct one, it would adversely affect the public interest to grant the injunction,” continued Zulick.
King said that in spite of this loss, Republican officials will use this “as a basis upon which to challenge votes if it’s appropriate” after Election Day. He remarked that the party still may “challenge those ballots that were improperly handled or counted.”
The ruling last week that votes with missing or incorrect dates would not be counted was seen as a big win for the Pennsylvania GOP, but now the victory has been softened in their view. After the ruling, the Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth, Leigh Chapman, encouraged all counties of Pennsylvania to follow a similar procedure as Monroe County as due to the result of the ruling, thousands of ballots are being cast aside, and won’t be counted unless voters are contacted.
Litigation continues on the matter. The state’s chapter of the NAACP, represented by the ACLU, filed a lawsuit aiming to allow the uncured votes to be counted claiming that their omission from the count would violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“This refusal to count timely mail ballots submitted by otherwise eligible voters because of a trivial paperwork error violates the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act, which makes it unlawful to deny the right to vote based on an ‘error or omission’ on a voting-related ‘record or paper’ that is ‘not material in determining whether [a voter] is qualified under State law to vote in [the] election,” the lawsuit read.
The issue is a partisan and contentious concern for political leaders across the state. Democracy Docket reported that 14,00o mail-in and absentee ballots have already been received by Monroe County, 70% percent of which have been returned by registered Democrats. In the Democrats’ motion to intervene last week’s injunction, they purport that Democrats request mail-in ballots at a rate four times higher than Republicans.
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