State Rules Mail Ballots Must Include Date To Be Valid

( – A federal appeals court in Pennsylvania ruled on March 27 that all mail-in ballots without handwritten dates on the outer envelope are invalid and cannot be counted. The 2-1 Third Circuit ruling overturned a November decision in a lower court.

Most states have strict deadlines on when ballots must be received, but the ACLU Pennsylvania executive director Mike Lee claimed that an undated ballot is “a meaningless paperwork error.” In the state’s April 23 primary election, the deadline to return mail-in ballots is election day. A 2019 Pennsylvania state law requires voters to complete their ballot, write the date, and sign the envelope before sending their ballot to be counted.

The lower court ruling said that mail-in ballots received before the deadline should be included in the count because disenfranchising voters for minor paperwork errors violated the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically the Materiality Provision that says missing information or unimportant errors should not be a reason to stop a person from voting. Appeals Court Judge Thomas Ambro disagreed, arguing that state law required the date to be written on the envelope. He cited a unanimous state Supreme Court decision that “held this ballot-casting rule is mandatory,” and that any ballots without dates would be rendered invalid.

Those in favor of mail-in ballots believe that it provides easier access for senior citizens and disabled individuals to vote. Critics of mail-in ballots, including former President Trump, believe that they can be exploited and compromise election integrity. More Democrats than Republicans in Pennsylvania choose to vote by mail. Over 2,600 mail-in ballots were not counted in the 2022 midterms because they did not have the right date or no date at all. Lee argued that the Civil Rights Act included a guardrail that prevented states from creating barriers designed to disenfranchise voters.

Newly elected Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Michael Whatley released a statement after the ruling, praising the decision as a win for election integrity and a step in the right direction for regaining confidence in the voting process nationwide. The organization was the appealing party to the lower court’s decision and plans to fight for election integrity up to the Supreme Court if necessary.

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