Jeff Fuentes Gleghorn
The United States Supreme Court ruled that undated ballots in an undecided 2021 Lehigh County judgeship election must be counted. The decision, which came on Thursday June 9, was a 6-3 split with Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch dissenting. The case involved 257 undated ballots and 4 ballots where the date was written on the wrong line. These 261 ballots were cast in an election separated by only 74 votes, meaning they could change the outcome of the election between Republican David Ritter and Democrat Zachary Cohen.
Pennsylvania state law requires voters to sign and date the outside of the envelope that ballots are mailed in. All 261 ballots were delivered prior to 8 p.m. on Election Day. Since they arrived before the end of the day, it is guaranteed that they were filled out before the end of the voting period, even if they were not dated. Both parties agreed that this was true in court, but GOP candidate Ritter said they still should not be counted.
The Court’s decision to count the ballots is based on the Civil Rights Act, which says that states cannot deny the right to vote for “immaterial” paperwork mistakes. A key point in the arguments is that the Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary for Elections and Commissions sent an email telling counties that writing the wrong date, even those that are obviously impossible, is not a reason to reject a ballot, and that the written date is not “used to determine the eligibility of the voter.” The 3rd District Court said that “Voters persuasively argue, ‘[t]he fact that anything that looks like a date, including a date from decades past or future, is acceptable highlights why the handwritten envelope date cannot be material to accurately assessing anything.’” The Supreme Court agreed, and upheld the decision to count the ballots.