Pennsylvania Can Throw Out Mail-In Ballots Without Dates or Wrong Dates

2024-03-28 10:00:15

The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that Pennsylvania can throw out mail ballots that do not have a date or the wrong date.

The majority held that the date requirement on a mail-in ballot does not violate the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act. The Vote Rights Act of 1965 applied it to all state elections.

Bottom line: The Materiality Provision addresses the voter and qualification. The date requirement is unrelated to a person’s eligibility to vote, only how the vote is cast. They have nothing to do with each other.

Now, let’s dissect the opinion.

Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro noted the state ballot rule:

Mail-in and absentee voters, for their part, must sign and date the declaration printed on the return envelope containing their mail ballot. The date requirement, it turns out, serves little apparent purpose. It is not used to confirm timely receipt of the ballot or to determine when the voter completed it. But the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that dating the envelope is mandatory, and undated or misdated ballots are invalid under its state law and must be set aside.

Pay attention to the italicized words, which the court did in the opinion

Ambro said the court’s role is to interpret a statute. Therefore, the majority holds that the “Materiality Provision only applies when the State is determining who may vote,” meaning the provision’s “role stops at the door of the voting place.”

The majority wrote that the provision does not affect rules like the date requirement, which governs “how a qualified voter must cast his ballot for it to be counted.”

Who and how. This is important. The court interpreted the statute to apply to WHO, and the rule to apply to HOW.

Who and how are not the same things.

The provision states:

No person acting under color of law shall . . . deny the right of any individual to vote in any election 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

The provision did not receive much attention in the courts until recent elections after the Democrats lost their minds in 2016 when former Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton (LOLOLOLOLOL).

No one followed the rules (I removed the citations within the quotes) (emphasis mine):

But in the November 2020 and November 2022 elections, thousands of Pennsylvania mail-in voters did not comply with the date requirement. Some voters omitted the date altogether, others put shortened or obviously incorrect dates. As county boards took different approaches to enforcing the date requirement, litigation began, and the Materiality Provision took center stage. A panel of this Court ruled this federal law does apply outside the voter registration context and was violated by the date requirement now (again) before us. But that decision has since been vacated as moot by the Supreme Court.

The validity of enforcing the date requirement thus remained uncertain as a matter of federal law. But the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania soon settled the issue for state law purposes. It unanimously agreed the command in Pennsylvania’s Election Code that mail-in voters “shall . . . date” the declaration was “unambiguous and mandatory” as a matter of statutory interpretation; so omitting the date, or incorrectly dating the return envelope, “render[s] a ballot invalid” under Pennsylvania law. Id. at 20-22. The Court also rejected the argument that a declaration with an incorrect date was “sufficient,” reasoning that “[i]mplicit in the Election Code’s textual command . . . is the understanding that ‘date’ refers to the day upon which an elector signs the declaration.” So, under Pennsylvania law, non compliant ballots are invalid. The Court evenly divided, however, on whether failing to count non-compliant ballots violated the Materiality Provision. That question thus was bound to return to us.

This is where we get into the merits of the case. The majority found that connecting the Materiality Provision to voter qualification rules “tie state legislatures’ hands in setting voting rules unrelated to voter eligibility.”

The provision only mentions voting; it never mentions casting the actual ballot. People conflate the two, but those are separate actions. Dating ties into casting the ballot, which goes back to HOW: “And so an outer ballot envelope falls outside the Materiality Provision’s scope.”

Dissenting Justice Patty Schwartz relied more on definitions, but her conclusion has great advice:

Today’s ruling is a clear reminder that all voters must carefully review and comply with every instruction and requirement imposed upon them. If they do not, they risk having their otherwise valid votes discounted based on even the most inconsequential mistake.


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