Voting Rights Advocates File to Intervene in Pennsylvania Mail-In Ballot Lawsuit

October 19, 2022 11:45 am


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HARRISBURG, Penn. — A coalition of voting rights advocates today filed a motion to intervene in Ball v. Chapman, the latest legal effort in the commonwealth to invalidate mail-in ballots that are missing a handwritten date on the return envelope. The ACLU of Pennsylvania and the American Civil Liberties Union are representing the Black Political Empowerment Project, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Common Cause Pennsylvania, NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference, Make the Road Pennsylvania, and POWER.

The groups represented by the ACLU are nonpartisan organizations committed to promoting democracy and ensuring eligible voters in the commonwealth are able to vote and have their votes counted. With 2022 voting already underway, the disqualification of mail-in ballots without a handwritten date on the return envelope would deeply impact the work of these organizations and could potentially disenfranchise thousands of Pennsylvania voters.

The lawsuit was filed just days after the U.S. Supreme Court vacated as moot the ACLU’s victory in Migliori v. Lehigh County, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that the date on the return envelope is immaterial to voters’ eligibility and, thus, under federal civil rights laws cannot be applied to disenfranchise voters. The Supreme Court’s action did not reverse the decision but simply negated it as precedent; the dispute became moot before the Supreme Court had an opportunity to review it.

​​“Throwing out valid votes because of a minor paperwork error is undemocratic, illegal, and smacks of desperation,” said ACLU attorney Ari Savitzky. “This effort threatens thousands of Pennsylvanians, most of them senior citizens and longtime voters, with disenfranchisement. Under Pennsylvania state law and federal law, a ballot cannot be tossed if a voter simply forgets to handwrite an inconsequential date on the outer return envelope. These votes must be counted.”

“When Act 77 passed in 2019 and established mail-in voting for Pennsylvanians, nearly every Republican legislator was on board,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “But in the wake of the former president’s Big Lie and antipathy for the democratic process, many of them are now pulling out every stop to try and rollback mail-in voting or altogether disenfranchise those voters who exercise their right to vote by mail. Disenfranchising eligible voters over an immaterial paperwork error is the opposite of a healthy democracy.”

“The mission of the Black Political Empowerment Project is that African Americans vote in each and every election. We encourage all persons to vote in each and every election,” said Tim Stevens, chairman & CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project. “We want nothing in the election process that will discourage anyone from voting. We also want no one to ever feel that their vote does not count!”

“LWVPA is intervening to bring voters’ voices to the table,” said Meghan Pierce, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. “Election officials know when ballots are sent to voters and when they are received. A voter adding a handwritten date to their return envelope does not add a verification of any sort. This latest attempt to disenfranchise voters for the simple mistake of not dating their return envelopes attempts to undo the progress Pennsylvania has made in making elections more accessible.”

“A minor technicality should not prevent someone from exercising their right to vote,” said Diana Robinson, civic engagement director of Make the Road PA. “Generations fought for and won our right to vote, beating back poll taxes, literacy tests, and other barriers that tried to make voting so inconvenient we’d just give up. Nitpicking to throw out valid votes over something as small as a date disenfranchises eligible voters, who have a right to be counted and heard.”

“We believe that every vote is sacred. We are witnessing an egregious assault on Black and brown voters’ access to the ballot box,” said Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER. “We know the thousands of votes made by Pennsylvanians of color are powerful. The sheer power of these voters threatens structures of white supremacy. This is why right-wing Republicans are so driven to silence our voices, to raise barriers to the ballot box, to close us away from polling places. Voting rights are sacred, made sacred by the blood spilled to enshrine them. Dedication to defending democracy and protecting our freedoms is at the very heart of our work. This and every November, our votes must be counted.”

This lawsuit follows a number of other legal efforts to disqualify mail-in ballots that are received on time by the counties but without a handwritten date on the return envelope. The three most recent court decisions, Migliori and two by the Commonwealth Court, have all ruled that undated mail ballots must be counted under both federal and state law.

You can read the full motion to intervene here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/ball-v-chapman-application-intervention

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