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Federal judge says Pennsylvania mail-in ballots should be counted even if dated

(AP) – Mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania that do not have an accurate handwritten date on the outer envelope must be counted even if they are received in time, a judge ruled Tuesday. It concluded that rejecting such ballots violates federal civil rights law.

The decision will impact the 2024 presidential election in key battleground states where Democrats are far more likely to vote by mail than Republicans.

inside recent lawsuits In a 2019 case over state voting law, U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter ruled that county election boards cannot reject mail-in ballots that don’t have an accurate handwritten date on the return envelope. I put it down. Baxter said the dates required by state law do not help election officials determine whether a ballot was received in time or whether a voter is eligible to vote.

Republicans have repeatedly fought in court to have those ballots destroyed as part of a campaign to invalidate mail-in and mail-in voting in Pennsylvania after then-President Trump took office. Donald Trump made baseless claims In 2020, mail-in voting was rife with fraud.

A Trump-appointed judge sided with several Pennsylvania groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, in refusing to count such ballots “because of minor paperwork errors.” They argued that this disenfranchised voters and violated the provisions of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964. This states that unmaterial errors or omissions should not be used to prevent voting.

The lawsuit was brought by state chapters of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the Black Political Empowerment Project and other groups.

“Throwing away valid votes based on minor documentary errors is undemocratic and illegal,” Ali Savitsky, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a written statement Tuesday. “This ruling ensures that Pennsylvanians who vote by mail, including elderly and disabled voters, will not be disenfranchised for a simple mistake such as handwriting an irrelevant date on the outer return envelope. That is guaranteed.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits states from denying the right to vote “because of errors or omissions in records or documents” if the error is irrelevant to determining eligibility to vote in an election. Forbidden.

In the Pennsylvania case, election officials did not use the date on the outer envelope to determine whether a vote should be counted, the judge said.

“The key date for voting is the date you receive your ballot. Here, the date on the outer envelope indicates when a voter’s mail-in ballot was received for the November 2022 election. It was not used by any county commission to make a determination,” Baxter wrote.

More than 7,600 mail-in ballots in 12 counties were discarded in this election because the outer envelopes were missing or had incorrect dates, according to the ruling. These counties were among the defendants in the lawsuit.

The Pennsylvania Department of State, led by Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro, which oversees elections across the state, said in a statement that it was reviewing the court’s ruling, “but is pleased with the outcome.”

Since Pennsylvania significantly expanded the use of mail-in voting under a state law passed in 2019, the situation with properly dated ballots has led to repeated lawsuits.

In November 2022, the state Supreme Court unanimously banned officials. It does not count such votes or instruct county election boards to “separate and preserve” those ballots. But the justices are divided on whether requiring envelope dates under state law violates federal civil rights law, and the issue is at issue in Tuesday’s federal court ruling.

The Department of State said the state court’s decision to ban mail-in ballots without accurate handwritten dates. Otherwise valid votes will be discarded.. The agency announced that more than 16,000 mail-in ballots for the 2022 midterm elections were disqualified by county officials because they lacked secrecy envelopes and proper signatures and dates.

Democratic voters accounted for more than two-thirds of the total canceled votes.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in May 2022 that setting a date was not mandatory, but the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently ruled that decision invalid, and the case was decided Tuesday. It became a trigger.

National and state Republican committees argued that the date requirement was useful in detecting fraud and that the materiality clause of the Civil Rights Act did not apply. An email message seeking comment on Tuesday’s decision was sent to attorneys for the Republican Party.

https://www.wkbn.com/news/pennsylvania/federal-judge-says-pa-mail-in-ballots-should-still-count-if-dated-incorrectly/ Federal judge says Pennsylvania mail-in ballots should be counted even if dated

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