The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a lawsuit brought by advocates who sought to extend the state’s absentee ballot deadlines this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
That leaves in place the current election law, which requires mail ballots to be received by election officials by 8 p.m. on an election day regardless of when voters put them in the mail. A similar lawsuit over absentee ballot deadlines, backed by national Democrats, is pending in a state court. That case seeks a variety of changes, including an election day postmark deadline.
The advocacy groups sued the state last month, saying the deadlines are generally not unconstitutional, but are this year because the pandemic is leading to delays in mail delivery and slower processing of absentee ballot requests. The plaintiffs are Suzanne Erb, chair of the Disability Rights Pennsylvania board; Disability Rights Pennsylvania; the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia; SeniorLAW Center; and SEAMAAC.
They asked the court to allow ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by election day and received within a week after the election, a change that would increase the likelihood last-minute ballots would arrive in time to be counted.
State election officials agreed that extending mail ballot deadlines could be a good idea, but argued it was inappropriate for that to come through a court order. The claims are simply too speculative, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and other officials said, so a change in policy should come from the legislature, not the courts.
“Respondents agree with [the plaintiffs] that extending the deadline for receipt of ballots may be good policy under the circumstances, and, as with any extension, would increase the number of votes that are timely returned," Boockvar and another elections official said in a response to the lawsuit. "This might well increase voters’ confidence in the midst of a crisis. Without properly alleging a constitutional violation, however, petitioners lack a basis to ask this court to change an election procedure that the legislature has put in place, however welcome that change might be to many stakeholders.”
The high court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit, which included a request to immediately change the deadline through a preliminary injunction.
The order was per curiam, meaning it came from the court as a whole and not from individual justices. Justice Debra Todd was not involved in the decision.
President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign hailed the decision as “a great victory today to protect election integrity.” Trump has decried absentee ballots as a vector for voter fraud despite lack of evidence, helping politicize vote-by-mail even as Pennsylvania Republicans urge voters to use it. Trump himself requested a Florida mail ballot this year and voted absentee in New York in 2018.