The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Friday denied a motion to separate Pennsylvania mail-in ballots received after 8 PM on Election Day. The decision affirmed a ruling from the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and the validity of more than 9,300 mail-in ballots.
The court based its decision on a “commitment to a proposition indisputable in our democratic process: that the lawfully cast vote of every citizen must count.” It determined that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they had “not suffered a concrete, particularized, and non-speculative injury necessary under the U.S. Constitution for them to bring this federal lawsuit.” In his concluding discussion, Chief Judge Smith stated explicitly what the court considered in reaching its holding:
We do not decide today whether the Deadline Extension or the Presumption of Timeliness are proper exercises of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s lawmaking authority, delegated by the U.S. Constitution, to regulate federal elections. Nor do we evaluate the policy wisdom of those two features of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling. We hold only that when voters cast their ballots under a state’s facially lawful election rule and in accordance with instructions from the state’s election officials, private citizens lack Article III standing to enjoin the counting of those ballots on the grounds that the source of the rule was the wrong state organ or that doing so dilutes their votes or constitutes differential treatment of voters in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
Plaintiffs alleged that mail-in ballots diluted the impact of their own in-person votes. However, the court found that even if the mail-in ballots were illegally cast, they “‘dilute’ the influence of all voters in Pennsylvania equally and in an ‘undifferentiated’ manner and do not dilute a certain group of voters particularly.”
Plaintiffs also claimed that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to extend the mail-in ballot reception deadline amounted to an unconstitutional “usurpation of the General Assembly’s rights under the Elections and Electors Clauses” to dictate the Pennsylvania federal election process. The court dismissed this alleged injury out of hand, noting that since plaintiffs are not members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly they lack standing to recover for this claim.
Plaintiffs included Jim Bognet, who lost his bid for the House of Representatives on a Republican ticket last week. The original complaint, filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on October 22, named Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar and every county election board in Pennsylvania as defendants. The District Court denied the plaintiffs’ motion to separate the ballots because their claims were “too speculative and not redressable,” and “alleged only a generalized grievance.”