Pennsylvania judges mull offer to reject mail-in ballot without apology – NBC10 Philadelphia
Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices considered on Tuesday whether to reject a state law that dramatically expanded mail-in voting, holding oral argument in a lawsuit brought in part by some of the state’s Republican representatives who had passed by an overwhelming majority about two years ago.
The unusually long three-hour session in Harrisburg could end compromise legislation that in 2019 eliminated direct voting, a priority for legislative Republicans, in exchange for mail-in voting without an excuse. Postal voting proved immediately popular during the pandemic.
The justices did not say when or how they would rule, although Chief Justice Max Baer suggested that if they reject the 125-page law it could stay in place until the spring primary, currently scheduled for May 17.
Baer asked if that would give election officials and others “enough time to sort things out before a general election.” Seth Waxman, an attorney for the national and state Democratic parties, said that was not likely.
“There are millions and millions of people who need re-education, millions and millions of dollars that the state will have to spend to re-educate them,” he replied.
Michael Dimino, a professor at Widener Law School representing Doug McLinko, a Bradford County commissioner who has sued to challenge the law, told the judges that the fact that most voters vote in person helps ensure that elections are conducted fairly, although the original intent was spurred by early 19th century efforts to limit the franchise to white male property owners.
“Having the presumption that in-person voting is required continues to be some assurance that people who vote are qualified to do so,” Dimino said.
The plaintiffs also include 14 State House Republicans, most of whom voted for the Mail Act in October 2019. Two were not in the Legislature at the time and one voted against it. Their attorney said they have since determined the law is not constitutional.
“Let’s be frank,” said Judge Kevin Dougherty, a Democrat. “What it really looks like is that maybe some lawmakers are worried because the no-apology ballot, at least recently, shows that one party may be voting overwhelmingly by mail over another. So maybe this is an attack on poll supremacy.
Judges have fast-tracked an appeal of a 3-2 Commonwealth Court ruling more than a month ago that threw out the postal voting law. The lower court majority said the law went beyond mail-in voting requirements allowed by the state constitution, such as being out of town on business, illness, physical disability, election day duties or religious observance.
Democrats have argued that the constitution’s allowances for mailing are a minimum that doesn’t preclude the legislature from expanding them to apply to more people.
The state Supreme Court currently has a 5-2 Democratic majority, and the justices have previously dismissed challenges to the law.
If the law is found to be unconstitutional, Judge Christine Donohue said, it would raise questions about an older state law that allows those who spend the winter months in warmer climates to vote by mail.
Gregory Teufel, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said they were only seeking to strike down the Mail-in Ballot Act and that being out of town on business could be construed as having personal business in Florida during the winter.
More than 2.5 million Pennsylvanians voted by mail in the 2020 presidential election, mostly Democrats, out of a total of 6.9 million votes.