More Mail Votes Are Now Going to Count in Crucial Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court just ruled that many mail-in ballots that aren’t received by Election Day will now be counted.
September 17, 2020, 5:51pm
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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court just ruled that many mail-in ballots that aren’t received by Election Day will now be counted, a major win for Democrats and voting rights groups in the key battleground state.

In a Thursday ruling, the court said that any ballots mailed by November 3, Election Day, and received by 5 p.m. on Friday, November 6, three days later, will count. That reverses state law that required ballots to be received before polls closed on Election Day, and likely means that tens of thousands of ballots will be counted that wouldn’t have otherwise been considered valid.

The court’s ruling said these ballots will be counted so long as they are postmarked by Election Day — or in cases where the post office fails to postmark them there’s no evidence that the ballot was postmarked afterwards. Almost 20,000 ballots were rejected in Pennsylvania for coming in after Election Day during the state’s summer primaries, according to numbers from the Pennsylvania secretary of state’s office, and that number would likely have been far higher in a higher-turnout election this fall if the court hadn’t stepped in.

That ruling is a big win for Democrats and voting rights groups, who’d argued that the deadline would disenfranchise voters. Polls show that Democrats are significantly more likely to vote by mail this election than Republicans, so the court’s decision likely means more Democratic ballots will be counted.

The decision could also slow down the vote-counting process in a state that was already expected to take days if not weeks to process its ballots. 

Pennsylvania is allowing no-excuse mail voting for the first time in a presidential election, but state law prohibits local officials from being able to prepare ballots for counting until Election Day. It took weeks for Pennsylvania officials to finish counting their ballots in this year’s primary elections, and the same will likely occur this fall.

The court also ruled that drop boxes for mail ballots were legal, rejecting a GOP lawsuit claiming that they are susceptible to fraud. That makes it easier for voters to submit their ballots in person rather than mailing them back to the state.

Democrats scored another win in a separate case on Thursday, when the court ruled that the Green Party had failed to qualify for the November ballot because a party representative hadn’t turned in the qualifying signatures in person. That means there won’t be a left-wing candidate to siphon off votes from Biden on the ballot.

Democrats and voting rights groups didn’t get everything they wanted in the ruling, however. The court declined to rule that voters who make mistakes on their ballots that would invalidate them don’t get an opportunity to “cure,” or fix them — a problem that could lead to thousands of ballots being chucked out for technical reasons like voters forgetting to sign their ballot envelope.

Cover: Slowdowns in the U.S. Postal Service have spurred concerns about delivery and receipt of ballots for the November elections. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)