HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) — Forty days out from the November election, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected a request by Republicans on Thursday to stay a ruling issued last week that extends the state’s deadline for mail-in ballots.
Without explaining its decision, the court, which holds a 5-2 Democratic majority, denied a request to go back on its ruling, which favored the Democratic Party's argument that “strict enforcement of this [mail-in ballot] deadline, in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic and alleged delays in mail delivery by the USPS, will result in extensive voter disenfranchisement in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Free and Equal Elections Clause.”
The opinion said ballots postmarked Nov. 3 will be counted as long as they are received by 5 p.m. the Friday following the election. Ballots missing postmarks or with illegible postmarks will also be counted, the court said, as long as there is no indication they were sent after Election Day.
Pennsylvania Republicans contend the opinion exceeded the court's constitutional authority and breaches federal law, which sets Election Day as the first Tuesday in November.
Justice Sallie Mundy, a Republican, dissented, writing the Pennsylvania GOP raised solid points in its objection to last week’s ruling, which said ballots with no postmark that arrived the Friday after Election Day would be counted.
“In my view, intervenors make a substantial case on the merits that this court should stay the portion of our opinion extending the deadline for receipt of mail-in ballots past 8:00 p.m. on November 3, 2020, Election Day,” Mundy wrote, noting that “virtually no evidence exists to overcome such a presumption” that ballots that arrive un-postmarked three days after Election Day had been mailed by deadline.
Mundy noted the Republicans believe the U.S. Supreme Court would grant their motion to stay.
“Intervenors note that the United States Supreme Court stayed a Wisconsin Supreme Court judgment and held that ‘[e]xtending the date by which ballots may be cast by voters after the scheduled election day fundamentally alters the nature of the election,’” Mundy wrote. “It is reasonable that the United States Supreme Court may view this court’s presumption regarding ballots lacking a postmark or bearing an illegible postmark in the same light.”
According to John Fortier, director of governmental studies at the Bipartisan Policy Center, there's an argument for either extending the deadline or keeping it as Election Day.
“One of the reasons for people who advocate for the longer time is that there are people who will mail in their mail-in ballots past the deadline and that is one of the more common reasons for an absentee ballot or a ballot to be rejected,” Fortier said. “One of the reasons for not having it is just the efficiency of the counting process.
“Certainly in this election, there's something of a partisan split between Republicans who are generally advocating for election day to turn in ballots and Democrats who've been arguing for the extension of the period to include the postmark date,” Fortier said.
Fortier, who is also the author of a book on absentee and early voting trends, said mail-in voting by choice has picked up steam in recent years.
“For a long time in the 20th Century, until the late ’70s, basically, pretty much all the states were the same and voting absentee ballots were pretty limited,” he explained. “They were only used for a reason and there were some other notary public requirements for security purposes. That meant roughly 5% of the population voted by mail, absentee and they were people who were out of town or people who were sick.”