Court’s decisions didn’t end Pennsylvania voting law fight

Pennsylvania. All told, the court handed victories to both Democrats and Republicans.

23 Sep 2020 | 12:15

(AP) The Nov. 3 presidential contest will test Pennsylvania’s ability to handle a massive mail-in vote and, while its high court settled several partisan points of dispute over how to update the state’s election law, counties remain unprepared in several important ways.

Plus, the legal challenges are not necessarily over. GOP lawmakers in Pennsylvania intend to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review a recent decision extending the state’s mail-in voting deadline past election day. This will be the Supreme Court’s first test of how it will handle cases affecting the November election in the wake of the death on Sept. 18 of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Lawmakers and election officials continue to warn that the conditions are ripe for a presidential election result to be left hanging in limbo on a drawn-out vote count in Pennsylvania, a premier battleground state where the result could be very close again. Some also warn that huge numbers of mail-in votes could be invalidated, unless the law is changed.

Decisions on Sept. 17 by a divided state Supreme Court filled the vacuum of inaction left by a partisan stalemate in the state Capitol. It also fanned partisan flames.

President Donald Trump’s campaign, the Republican Party and leaders of the state Legislature’s Republican majorities had opposed two key decisions of the court’s Democratic majority.

In those decisions, the court extended the period to receive mail-in ballots for three days after Election Day — as long as a ballot isn’t clearly mailed after polls close — and it ruled that drop boxes and satellite election offices are allowable under current law.

What the court did

All told, the court handed victories to both Democrats and Republicans.

Extending the deadline to receive mailed-in ballots and upholding the use of drop boxes and satellite election offices were good for Democrats. Counties, such as Philadelphia and Allegheny County, planning to use satellite election offices and drop boxes are home to more than half of the state’s registered Democratic voters.

Meanwhile, more than 1.3 million of the 2 million registered voters who have thus far requested a mail-in or absentee ballot are registered Democrats, according to figures from the state elections office. That’s nearly three times as many as registered Republicans and that means that counties will have more time and more ways to receive mail-in ballots that are far likelier to be from a Democratic voter.

In two other wins for Democrats, the court kicked the Green Party’s presidential candidate off the ballot and it upheld the requirement in state law that a party-designated poll watcher be a registered voter in the county.

But in wins for Republicans, it rejected requests to let voters who aren’t disabled give their mail-in ballot to someone else to deliver; to require counties to let voters fix disqualifying problems with their mail-in ballots, such as not signing their return envelope; and to require counties to count mailed-in ballots that arrive without a secrecy envelope.

What counties want:
Counties want more time — as much as three weeks before Election Day — to process mailed-in ballots to get them ready to count. Republicans support giving counties a three-day head start, but Democrats are pushing for more time than that.
Counties also want to shorten the period in which to request a mail-in or absentee ballot, moving the deadline back to 15 days before Election Day, from seven days in current law. Republicans support it, Democrats oppose it. That request came after thousands of ballots arrived after polls closed in the June 2 primary election.
Forrest Lehman, the elections director for Lycoming County, warned that tens of thousands of people will worry about their mail-in ballot arriving in time and will show up at polling places to vote, where they will have to cast a provisional ballot.