Supreme Chaos in Pennsylvania Voting

Three days late, and no postmark needed: That’s the ruling on mail votes from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. State law clearly says absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day. But on Thursday the court controlled by Democrats, in a case filed by Democrats, rewrote the law in a 4-3 vote, with four Democrats in the majority, 47 days before Nov. 3.

“There is no ambiguity regarding the deadline set by the General Assembly,” the court’s majority admits. To overturn it, they cite a line in Pennsylvania’s constitution: “Elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.” How does that language empower judges to ignore the ballot deadline? We’ll wait while readers search for emanations and penumbras.

Pennsylvania’s election laws are flawed. Voters can request an absentee ballot as late as 5 p.m. on Oct. 27, seven days before the votes are due. The majority opinion calls this “an extremely condensed timeline” that “will unquestionably fail under the strain of COVID-19 and the 2020 Presidential Election, resulting in the disenfranchisement of voters.”

Before the state’s June 2 primary, a crush of applications meant that many ballots went out late. “An elector cannot exercise the franchise,” the majority says, “while her ballot application is awaiting processing in a county election board nor when her ballot is sitting in a USPS facility.” Thus the court orders that ballots be counted if they arrive by Nov. 6. If their postmarks are missing or illegible, they will be “presumed to have been mailed by Election Day” unless evidence shows otherwise.

The court’s feigned modesty elsewhere in the ruling is hilarious by comparison. Pennsylvania lacks a requirement that voters be notified about defects in their mail ballots, such as faulty signatures. The Supreme Court declined to fabricate one, “particularly in light of the open policy questions attendant to that decision.”

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