Bucks County election officials are asking a court to give voters more time to turn in mail ballots, saying the current deadline will disenfranchise voters who receive their ballots too late to return them by election day.
“Hundreds or thousands of qualified applicants for mail-in and absentee ballots might not receive their ballot in time to return their ballots” by mail under the current deadline, the Bucks County Board of Elections wrote in an emergency petition Thursday.
They asked Bucks County Court to set a new deadline of between two and seven days after the election, and to allow ballots received by that time to be counted if they are postmarked by election day.
State law requires ballots to be returned to county elections officials by 8 p.m. on an election day, and postmarks don’t count. But the pandemic has slowed the processing and mailing of ballots, and county election officials across the state have warned that thousands of voters may receive their ballots too late.
Tuesday was the deadline to request a ballot, and the final Bucks County ballots will be mailed Friday, said the county’s chief clerk, Gail Humphrey.
“We are concerned that the ballots that go out tomorrow in the mail may not get to someone’s home until June 1,” she said Thursday at a news conference.
That would be the day before the election, making it impossible for many voters to return those ballots by mail.
A new election law allows any voter to vote by mail, but the pandemic has led to an unexpected flood of ballot requests. Voters have reported long mail delivery times, sometimes more than a week, to receive ballots once they are mailed.
That has alarmed county election officials and led, among other things, to a scramble to set up drop boxes for hand delivery of ballots.
In Bucks County, boxes are being set up this weekend at the Lower Bucks Government Services Center at 7321 New Falls Rd. in Levittown, the Bucks County Administration Building at 55 E. Court St. in Doylestown, and the Upper Bucks Government Services Center at 261 California Rd. in Quakertown.
Thursday’s petition is the latest in a series of attempts to have courts change the mail ballot deadlines, all of which have been unsuccessful.
Advocacy groups sued the state in April and argued for a one-week extension to the deadline, saying the current deadline would disenfranchise voters because of the challenges of running the election during the pandemic. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the case, agreeing with the Pennsylvania Department of State that the plaintiffs’ argument was hypothetical.
Montgomery County elections officials on Tuesday asked a court for a one-week extension of the deadline, citing long mail delivery times and a design flaw with the online ballot application system that they said led to hundreds of ballots being sent out without apartment numbers. The county court rejected that request Wednesday without explanation.
And on Thursday, the president judge of Commonwealth Court denied a preliminary injunction request to allow mail ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by election day and received within seven days. That case, brought by the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans and funded by the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, remains open, but the court said it did not have jurisdiction to grant the request.