Philadelphia’s Secretary of State Instructs Municipalities To Breach The Law

The Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision that allowed undated mail-in ballots to be tallied in Pennsylvania against the law. This should be a big triumph for election integrity proponents, but the secretary of state in the commonwealth has other plans. 

On Tuesday, the court reversed a decision by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which held that ignoring ballots with incorrect dates would violate the Voting Rights Act of 1964. 

Actual Date

David Ritter filed an appeal to the Third Circuit after losing his 2021 race (to a Democrat by a margin of just five votes, with 257 ballots left undated) to the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas.

However, voters in the state of Pennsylvania are obligated to write the date they mailed in their ballots on the outside of the envelope. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals found this prerequisite “immaterial” to a person’s right to vote. 

Although the Supreme Court previously rejected Ritter’s request to stay the 3rd Circuit’s ruling in June, on Tuesday, the court vacated the case, overturning the lower court’s verdict and thus ruling in Ritter’s favor.

There were dissenting opinions from Justices Sonia Sotomayor, as well as Ketanji Brown Jackson, who both said they would have rebuffed Ritter’s appeal and left the 3rd Circuit ruling in place.

However, the majority decision meant the 3rd Circuit’s ruling could no longer serve as election precedent in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. 

Nevertheless, Acting Pennsylvania Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman issued a statement shortly after the court’s judgment became public, noting it did not influence the 3rd Circuit’s decision “in any way.” 

As Chapman said, the Supreme Court’s order reversing the Third Circuit’s ruling on a mootness basis was not founded on the merits of the case and therefore does not overturn the commonwealth court’s original ruling.

They expect counties to continue meeting their commitment to count all lawful votes, and they note this provision gives counties no reason to reject ballots based on a technicality.

Disregard For The Law

In addition to anticipated variations in how different areas handle erroneous votes, Chapman’s directive will further add to the chaos and confusion already experienced by voters, poll workers, and election clerks.

The “today’s date necessary” and explicit instructions to “sign and date” the ballot are already printed on Pennsylvania’s mail-in ballots during this election cycle. 

In Pennsylvania, such flagrant disregard for electoral law is par for the course. When she was Pennsylvania’s secretary of state in 2020, Kathy Boockvar gave instructions that conflicted with state law. 

A few of the commonwealth’s 67 municipalities will follow Chapman’s suggestion, while others will obey state law and explicit ballot instructions; this means the discrepancies and anomalies that plagued the 2020 election are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. 

Linda A. Kerns, an attorney specializing in election law in Pennsylvania, stated no component of the Pennsylvania Constitution, legislation, or rule permits an unelected bureaucrat to amend or ignore a law passed by the people’s representatives in an election.

The people of Pennsylvania did not elect Acting Secretary Leah Chapman, but her ‘advice’ runs counter to the state’s official Election Code. Once again, the state of Pennsylvania has changed the laws of the contest on a hunch.

This article appeared in The Political Globe and has been published here with permission.