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Montgomery County goes to court to extend Pennsylvania’s deadline for mail ballots

County elections officials are seeking a one-week extension of the mail ballot deadlines for voters.

Montgomery County voters should have more time to return their mail ballots, county elections officials said in asking a court to grant a one-week extension.
Montgomery County voters should have more time to return their mail ballots, county elections officials said in asking a court to grant a one-week extension.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Montgomery County elections officials are asking a Pennsylvania court to extend the state’s deadline for mail ballots by one week, which would allow voters to have their ballots counted if they arrive within a week after next month’s primary election.

Without that extension, the county Board of Elections said in its emergency petition Tuesday in Common Pleas Court, voters will be unfairly disenfranchised due to a variety of issues with this year’s election.

“The Montgomery County Board of Elections has received numerous reports from individuals who have not received their absentee or mail-in ballots, despite the fact that the ballots were mailed to them,” the petition said. “Additionally, both the Democratic and Republican party officials of Montgomery County have received reports from constituents that they still have not received their absentee or mail-in ballots.”

If the court allows the move, it could lead to thousands of additional votes being counted. But it would only apply to voters from Montgomery County, not the state’s other 66 counties.

County officials, like others across the state, have struggled to hold an election during the coronavirus pandemic. A new state law allows any voter to request a mail ballot for any reason, and the pandemic has fueled a massive surge in mail ballot requests. At the same time, officials are preparing for in-person voting that, in Montgomery County, will take place with 60% fewer polling places than normal.

Every step of the vote-by-mail process is taking longer than normal, and officials in multiple counties have warned that thousands or even tens of thousands of voters who requested mail ballots close to the deadline could receive their ballots too late to vote.

» READ MORE: Thousands of Pennsylvania voters might not get their mail ballots in time to actually vote

Mail ballot applications are due by 5 p.m. Tuesday, one week before the June 2 primary. The completed ballots are due back by 8 p.m. election night, leaving voters with just one week to have their ballots processed, printed, mailed, filled out, and then returned.

County officials cited two specific problems in their filing Tuesday: long mail delivery times and a flaw in the online mail ballot application system.

The United States Postal Service told county officials last week that “ballots that had been mailed could take up to ten days to be delivered,” too long to allow last-minute voters to receive their ballot.

And the state’s online application form has a design flaw that led hundreds of voters to write their apartment numbers into a field that doesn’t get included when elections staff print ballot materials. So those voters’ apartment numbers weren’t included on the envelopes when ballots were mailed, and the county has begun receiving them back as undeliverable.

County officials said they discussed their options with lawyers from the Pennsylvania Department of State, who suggested going to the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.

Elections officials across the state are also closely watching another lawsuit, filed with backing from national Democrats, that seeks a similar one-week deadline extension for the entire state. That case remains open, with the plaintiffs, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration, and state lawmakers fighting over whether the case should be moved to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court or remain in Commonwealth Court.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court this month dismissed a separate, similar challenge that also sought a one-week deadline extension.