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Pennsylvania Court Strikes Down State’s Vote-By-Mail Law

January 28, 2022 by Dan McCue
Pennsylvania Court Strikes Down State’s Vote-By-Mail Law
This file photo from Oct. 23, 2020, shows mail-in ballots for the U.S. 2020 General Election before being sorted at the Chester County Voter Services office, in West Chester, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – A Pennsylvania court struck down Act 77, the state’s election reform law that permitted no-excuse mail-in voting in the last presidential election, saying the state Constitution requires voters to cast ballots in person unless they meet specific requirements.

The ruling was 3-2, with three Republican judges striking the law over the dissent of two Democratic ones.

Notably, the majority did not weigh in on the merits of no excuse, mail-in voting, instead they focused solely on the question of whether it was properly expanded. The three Republicans said for the change to occur lawfully, it would have to be done by Constitutional amendment, not legislation.

“No-excuse mail-in voting makes the exercise of the franchise more convenient and has been used four times in the history of Pennsylvania,” the majority wrote in its opinion. 

“Approximately 1.38 million voters have expressed their interest in voting by mail permanently. If presented to the people, a constitutional amendment… is likely to be adopted. But a constitutional amendment must be presented to the people before legislation like Act 77 can take effect,” it said.

The state is expected to appeal the decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court almost immediately, a move that would result in an automatic stay of the Commonwealth Court’s decision while the case is pending.

It’s widely believed the state Supreme Court, with its Democratic majority, will uphold the law.

Act 77 advanced through the Pennsylvania legislature with widespread, bipartisan support in 2019, the bill being a compromise between Republicans in the legislature, who wanted to eliminate straight-ticket voting, and Gov. Tom Wolf, who offered mail-in voting as an alternative he and his fellow Democrats could embrace.

Prior to the change, only people who qualified for absentee voting could do so by mail. In the end, Republicans were nearly unanimous in their support of the bill, voting 27-0 amongst themselves in the State Senate and 105-3 in the State House.

Democrats gave the bill no support at all in the state Senate, but were split 59-33, in the State House. Wolf signed the new law as soon as it hit his desk.

Republicans filed their legal challenge alleging Act 77 was unconstitutional in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election.

In addition to challenging how the law was created, the Republicans also objected to the fact it allowed mail ballots to be counted up to three days after the 2020 election so long as they were postmarked by Election Day.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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