Undated Pennsylvania ballots should still count, judge rules

A U.S. district judge on Tuesday ruled undated mail-in ballots cast in Pennsylvania should still be counted, a decision that could have wide implications for the 2024 election in the key battleground state.

The ruling, issued by U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter, said ballots without accurate handwritten dates must be counted if they are received on time.

Pennsylvania state law currently requires voters to write the date on their ballot envelope, which Baxter argued is “immaterial” or irrelevant in determining whether the ballot was received in time or if the voter is qualified to cast a ballot, according to The Associated Press.

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The suit, filed this month by the Pennsylvania State Conference of the NAACP, League of Women, the Black Political Empowerment Project and other groups, is the latest legal challenge to center around the highly-contested date requirement.

National and state Republicans have repeatedly opposed efforts to allow undated mail-in ballots in the wake of former President Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud.

Baxter argued the rejection of undated ballots disenfranchises voters and violates provisions under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which argues immaterial errors and other omissions should not be used to prevent voting.

In Tuesday’s ruling, Baxter noted elections officials have not used the date on the outer envelope, but instead rely on time stamps when the ballots are returned, meaning the lack of a date on the return envelope was “not material” to determining when the ballot was received.

“The important date for casting the ballot is the date the ballot is received,” Baxter wrote. “Here, the date on the outside envelope was not used by any of the county boards to determine when a voter’s mail ballot was received in the November 2022 election.”

In the 2022 midterms, more than 7,600 mail-in ballots in 12 counties were not counted because the outer envelope did not include a date or had an incorrect date, according to the ruling. These counties are among the numerous defendants in the suit.

Last November, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Pennsylvania officials cannot count votes from mail-in or absentee ballots that lack accurate, handwritten dates on the return envelope, according to The Associated Press.

However, the judges were divided on whether mandating the envelope dates under state law would violate a federal civil rights law, the issue at the center of Baxter’s ruling, per The Associated Press.

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