Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling to reject a request by Pennsylvania Republicans to ban counting any mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day but received Nov. 4 through Nov. 6 is a victory for democracy. The GOP had argued that the state Supreme Court overstepped its bounds by allowing the three-day extension.
The party’s efforts have been consistent with what clearly is a campaign by Republicans nationally, in Harrisburg, and in some Pennsylvania counties to severely circumscribe the tabulation of mail-in ballots. Also concerning is a statement by Justice Samuel Alito that accompanied Wednesday’s ruling and implied that the court could hold a full hearing on the request after the election, potentially invalidating ballots counted during the extension.
The vote-by-mail option, widely expanded for the first time nationally due to COVID-19, is being used far more by Democrats than Republicans in many states, including Pennsylvania, which has 20 electoral votes crucial to President Donald Trump’s reelection strategy. In its Sept. 17 ruling, the divided state Supreme Court said ballots must be postmarked by the time polls close and be received by county election boards at 5 p.m. on Nov. 6.
This creates additional issues. Consider the news Thursday that Republican-led Cumberland County will postpone counting all mail-in ballots until Nov. 4 — the day after the polls close. Four other counties — Monroe, Greene, Beaver, and Franklin — will follow suit, according to the York Daily Record.
While some county officials are claiming lack of capacity to start counting on Tuesday, the darker worry over these delays is that tallying potential Republican votes sooner than those of Democrats is a priority, given that a far greater percentage of Pennsylvania Republican voters is expected to cast ballots in person than their Democratic counterparts.
In addition to potentially delaying the results of the election for the entire country, a skewed illusion of an early Trump victory could have a bearing on possible future court challenges. Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar is rightly urging counties to not delay the counting.
The Republicans who control the Pennsylvania legislature were determined to derail every effort by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to enable the counties to open — but not begin until Nov. 3 to tally — hundreds of thousands of ballots statewide that are coming in before Election Day. Reportedly, the GOP walked away from an eleventh-hour deal the governor brokered to allow “pre-canvassing” those ballots. The party’s national strategy seems designed to suppress turnout, intimidate voters in places like Philadelphia, and interfere with the sanctity of voting itself.
Trump and his campaign have made absurd allegations of wholesale mail-in voter fraud and preposterous predictions of “rigged” elections and final results unavailable for weeks or even months. Trashing Philly is a Trump campaign theme.
But regardless of party or zip code and despite the pandemic, many voters seem unfazed. More than 75 million have already cast ballots nationwide — and more than two million Pennsylvania voters have delivered their ballots. Voters are doing their duty and upholding their end of democracy’s greatest bargain. Those elected to positions of power ought to do the same.