OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
The United States Supreme Court has sided with a Pennsylvania Republican in a ballot case for a judgeship.
The Supreme Court nixed a lower court ruling that allowed the counting of mail-in ballots that did not have the date on them, the Associated Press reported.
The justices vacated the ruling by the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as requested by David Ritter, who lost his 2021 bid for a spot on the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas to a Democratic rival by five votes after 257 absentee ballots without date notations were counted.
The high court’s action means that the 3rd Circuit ruling cannot be used as a precedent in the three states covered by this regional federal appellate court – Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware – to allow the counting of ballots with minor flaws such as the voter failing to fill in the date. Vacating the ruling does not change Ritter’s loss in his race.
The 3rd Circuit had ruled that invalidating the un-dated ballots would violate a provision of a landmark 1964 federal law called the Civil Rights Act aimed at ensuring that minor ballot errors do not deny someone the right to vote.
The state requires that anyone submitting a mail-in ballot “fill out, date and sign” the ballot, but the appeals court ruled that the right to vote superseded those rules.
“We are at a loss to understand how the date on the outside envelope could be material when incorrect dates — including future dates — are allowable but envelopes where the voter simply did not fill in a date are not,” Judge Theodore McKee said in the unanimous decision in May. “Surely, the right to vote is made of sterner stuff than that.”
But the campaign for Oz submitted a brief in support of judicial candidate David Ritter. “The Third Circuit’s thinly reasoned and erroneous decision — which addressed a county judicial election conducted more than six months ago — is now being weaponized to undermine the apparent result of a statewide primary election for the Republican nomination to represent Pennsylvania in the United States Senate,” his attorneys said.
In May, the three-judge panel on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that said election officials should count several hundred mail ballots that were received without a date on the envelopes in an election for county judge that was received on time, Politico reported.
“Look, you have a federal Court of Appeals ruling in unmistakable terms that the date requirement is immaterial,” Adam Bonin, a Democratic election lawyer involved in the case, said.
“This is what the Department of State said: It just has to have a date on it,” he said. “And all the ballots, when they’re received by the counties, they get time-stamped, they get clocked in. So we know that they arrived on time. … So whether or not a voter handwrites in the date, it doesn’t matter at all. And I’m glad that this court recognized it.”
Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa Deeley said that the decision was a “major victory” for voters.
“The numbers of un-dated ballots are scary,” she said. “And even if the number were five, it’s still five too many. A voter’s done everything. They filled out the application. They got the ballot. We know we got the ballot back in time. … So it just always seemed like an unnecessary step and I’m glad that the federal court agreed.”
Federal law says that no person can be denied the right to vote “because of an error or omission on any record or paper relating to any application, registration, or other act requisite to voting if such error or omission is not material in determining whether such individual is qualified under State law to vote in such election.”
In response to the case, a McCormick campaign official said, “We’re glad votes are continuing to be counted.”
But the Supreme Court ruling means that, in the three states covered by the Third Circuit, the case can no longer be used as a precedent to allow those votes.