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U.S. Supreme Court dismisses the last challenge over Pennsylvania’s 2020 election

The case was the last of a torrent of litigation over the conduct of Pennsylvania’s election, which drew intense scrutiny and several appeals to the nation's highest court.

An election worker organizes Philadelphia mail ballots to be counted on Nov. 4, 2020.
An election worker organizes Philadelphia mail ballots to be counted on Nov. 4, 2020.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

The U.S. Supreme Court closed the books on Pennsylvania’s 2020 election Monday, rejecting an appeal of a Republican congressional candidate’s unsuccessful challenge of the state’s mail-ballot deadlines.

The case was the last of a torrent of litigation challenging the administration of Pennsylvania’s election, which drew intense scrutiny and several appeals to the Supreme Court. But the court repeatedly declined to intervene in the Pennsylvania cases, even as some conservative justices signaled potential interest.

On Monday — five months and 16 days after Election Day, and three months into Biden’s presidency — the court vacated the previous judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, returned the case to the circuit court, and instructed it to dismiss the case as moot. No justices were listed as dissenting from the decision.

The ruling means the state can count about 10,000 mail ballots that had arrived after Election Day. They were far too few to change President Joe Biden’s 81,000-vote victory in Pennsylvania but those votes hadn’t been included in the state’s certified vote count, leaving thousands of voters technically without a voice in the election. The Pennsylvania Department of State is now “reviewing the options” for those ballots, a spokesperson said Monday.

The case resolved Monday, Bognet v. Degraffenreid, was one of several focused on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling that extended mail-ballot deadlines until three days after Election Day. That ruling was meant to address concerns that mail delivery delays would prevent votes from arriving on time.

But Republicans expressed outrage that the state’s high court had overstepped its bounds; one of them, Jim Bognet, a congressional candidate from Luzerne County, filed a lawsuit.

None of the legal challenges to those deadlines was ultimately successful. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the other major challenges to how Pennsylvania ran the election, leaving only Bognet. Unlike the other cases, Bognet sought not only to challenge the state Supreme Court’s decision — saying it violates the U.S. Constitution, which gives state legislatures the power to determine how elections are run — but also federal court rulings on who can bring such election challenges and when.

Ultimately, none of the judges who considered the case on appeal weighed in on the merits of the legal argument. The circuit court had upheld a lower court’s decision that, among other things, Bognet lacked standing to bring the lawsuit. The Supreme Court’s decision vacates that decision.

David H. Thompson, the lead lawyer for Bognet, said he was pleased the high court tossed out the lower court decision, which he said means “any future election challenge can be litigated against a blank slate.”

While all elections are highly charged and divisive, last year brought unprecedented attention to election administrationhow votes are cast and counted — as former President Donald Trump helped spread false conspiracy theories around voter fraud and election rigging. Those claims were often conflated with legal and procedural concerns around the election, and the result was a record amount of election litigation, including after Election Day.

Over and over, those lawsuits failed, as judges across the country and ideological spectrum rejected challenges to the election.

“We are pleased that yet another court ruling has affirmed the accuracy and integrity of Pennsylvania’s November 2020 election,” Pennsylvania Department of State spokesperson Wanda Murren said in a statement Monday. “Pennsylvanians can be proud of the work done in every county election office to ensure that every voter’s ballot was cast and counted fairly.”

Some Republicans had hoped to reverse the election outcome, giving Trump the win, while others sought to establish new legal doctrine and rules for future elections.

Lawmakers have turned their attention once more to legislation. In Washington, Democrats have proposed legislation intended to dramatically expand access and set nationwide voting standards.

At the state level, legislatures have pursued a variety of proposals, including Republican measures that proponents say would increase election security — but in some cases by severely restricting access to the ballot. A major new voting law in Georgia, for example, has drawn controversy.

Pennsylvania legislators have introduced a number of proposals, but legislative leaders haven’t advanced them yet, instead holding a series of hearings in the House and Senate before proposing overhaul legislation this summer.