The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday dealt the Trump campaign yet another legal loss while simultaneously reversing one of President Donald Trump’s only post-election victories, ruling 4-3 that the state can count mail-in ballots with superficial facial defects. The justices also reversed a lower court order invalidating more than 2,300 ballots in Allegheny County that were lacking a date of signature on the outside of the envelope.
In a 35-page ruling penned by Justice Christine Donohue, the court reasoned that because the Election Code was ambiguous with regard to whether such ballots to be discarded, the court reasoned that ambiguities should be “liberally construed so as to not deprive, inter alia, electors of their right to elect a candidate of their choice.”
“Guided by these principles,” the court wrote, “we conclude that the Election Code does not require boards of elections to disqualify mail-in or absentee ballots submitted by qualified electors who signed the declaration on their ballot’s outer envelope but did not handwrite their name, their address, and/or date, where no fraud or irregularity has been alleged.”
The campaign argued state law required each elector to “fill out, date, and sign” a declaration on the outside of their mail-in ballot envelope. The campaign did not put forth any claims or allegations suggesting that voter fraud played any role in considering the viability of the ballots.
The Philadelphia Board of Elections argued that minor errors should not result in the complete disenfranchisement of thousands of otherwise eligible voters.
“[G]iven the factual record in this case and the mechanics of the pre-canvassing and canvassing procedures including the incorporation of reliance on the SURE system, this ‘requirement’ is, at best, a ‘minor irregularity’ and, at worst, entirely immaterial. More to the point, the direction to the voter to provide a handwritten name and/or address is not only not mandatory, it is not a directive expressed in the Election Code,” Donohue wrote. “Here we conclude that while failures to include a handwritten name, address or date in the voter declaration on the back of the outer envelope, while constituting technical violations of the Election Code, do not warrant the wholesale disenfranchisement of thousands of Pennsylvania voters.”
Even if the campaign had managed to pull out an unlikely victory in the state’s highest court, there were less than 9,000 ballots that would have been subject to the order, meaning its effect would have been negligible on the outcome of the election as President Donald Trump currently trails President-elect Joe Biden by more than 80,000 votes.
The ruling was promptly celebrated by Biden campaign and Democratic Party lawyer Marc Elias, who said “Trump and his allies are now 1-35 in post-election litigation.”
Other lawyers piled on as well, noting the general lack of winning.
Best part of this is that it reverses 1 of the 2 tiny wins Trump has gotten since Election Day. He's now like 1 out of 36, and the 1 is irrelevant.
— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) November 23, 2020
Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejects (yet another) Trump lawsuit, emphasizing that any problems alleged "do not warrant the wholesale disenfranchisement of thousands of Pennsylvania voters."
Full opinion here: https://t.co/Umb7BS4NV1
— Joshua A. Geltzer (@jgeltzer) November 23, 2020
See the full ruling below:
[image via NICHOLAS KAMM_AFP via Getty Images]
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