The same U.S. Supreme Court that refused to intervene in controversial cases alleging unconstitutional changes were made to voting rules and procedures in a number of states ahead of the 2020 election decided on Friday to rule in a case involving one of those contested states, Pennsylvania.
The high court ruled 6-3 that counting undated mail-in ballots in a contested local election was allowable, even though state law prohibits that.
The Court restored a federal appeals court order that said disqualifying ballots received on time but lacking a handwritten date on the return envelope was a violation of federal voting rights.
Pennsylvania state law mandates that voters include a date next to the signature despite mail ballots being postmarked and dated again by election officials when they are received.
The appeals court ruled not having the handwritten date was an “immaterial” error.
Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented. Trump nominees Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, along with Chief Justice John Roberts, sided with the court’s liberals.
“When a mail-in ballot is not counted because it was not filled out correctly, the voter is not denied ‘the right to vote.’ Rather, that individual’s vote is not counted because he or she did not follow the rules for casting a ballot,” Alito wrote.
The Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way for a Pennsylvania county to count mail-in ballots that do not comply with a state law requiring voters to write the date on the ballot’s envelope. Although the case arose from a single local judicial race, it raised broader issues about how federal voting-rights protections apply when voters fail to meet state clerical requirements — a conflict that may crop up again in this year’s midterm elections.
In an unsigned and unexplained order, the justices rejected an emergency appeal from a Republican candidate who currently holds a narrow lead in a 2021 race for a judgeship on a Lehigh County trial court. The candidate, David Ritter, wanted the justices to block the local board of elections from counting ballots that were received by Election Day but arrived in undated envelopes.
Justice Samuel Alito dissented from the ruling, in a five-page opinion that was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch. He urged the court to take up the case on the merits and fast-track it for an argument in October so that it can resolve the issue before the November elections.
The dispute, Ritter v. Migliori, stemmed from a race last fall for three positions on the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas.