Pennsylvania top court upholds law expanding mail-in voting
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Pennsylvania top court upholds law expanding mail-in voting

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld a law expanding the state’s vote-by-mail measures, finding the law does not violate the state constitution. The case was originally brought by state Republican representatives who voted in favor of the law back in 2019.

At the center of the case is a 2019 law known as Act 77, which amended the Pennsylvania Election Code to overhaul the state voting system. In addition to expanding Pennsylvania’s access to vote-by-mail, Act 77 also removed straight-ticket voting, increased the amount of time available to register to vote, allocated funding for voting system upgrades and reorganized the pay structure for poll workers. At the time that it passed, Act 77 had bipartisan support, passing both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature with overwhelming support. Since then, however, the law has come under attack from Republican politicians.

Republican state representatives and candidates first challenged Act 77 in a November 2020 case with the Commonwealth Court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court intervened and struck down the lawsuit for being untimely. The Republican challengers appealed the matter to the US Supreme Court in a writ of certiorari, but their petition was denied.

In July 2021, Bradford County Board of Elections Commissioner Doug McLinko filed a petition for review with the Commonwealth Court raising substantially the same claims as the Republicans’ case from November 2020. McLinko’s case was then echoed in a substantially similar case raised by Republican state representatives in the Commonwealth Court. The cases were consolidated and later joined by a number of other parties.

On January 28, the Commonwealth Court found that Article VII, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution prohibited Act 77’s expansion of vote-by-mail measures.

In a 5-2 Tuesday decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the Commonwealth Court’s ruling, finding that Act 77 does not violate the state’s constitution. Writing for the majority, Justice Christine Donohue wrote: “We find no restriction in our Constitution on the General Assembly’s ability to create universal mail-in voting.”

As a result, the vote-by-mail expansion under Act 77 remains in place.