US federal appeals court holds Pennsylvania mail-in ballot date requirement is legal News
Lauren Ban // JURIST
US federal appeals court holds Pennsylvania mail-in ballot date requirement is legal

A US federal appeals court panel ruled Wednesday that the date requirement for mail-in ballots for Pennsylvania voters did not violate the Civil Right Act’s Materiality Provision, reversing a lower court’s decision. This ballot debate has remained ongoing since the enactment of Act 77, a voter reform bill in Pennsylvania.

Act 77 requires Pennsylvania voters to put the date on the return envelopes of mail-in ballots. As a result of this rule, thousands of Pennsylvanians’ votes were declared invalid in the 2022 election. Some voters omitted the date altogether, while others used shortened or incorrect dates.

In November, a US federal district court in Pennsylvania found that undated mail-in ballots must be counted if they are received in time—despite Act 77’s language. Further, the court found that refusing to count the votes violates the Materiality Provision. The Materiality Provision lays out US voting standards and rights. Those who challenged the act claimed Act 77 also violated the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. The court chose not to evaluate the claim under the Equal Protection Clause because the issue was already addressed under the Materiality Provision.

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overruled the lower courts ruling on Wednesday and held that the date requirement did not violate the Materiality Provision. While the Materiality Provision prohibits denial of the right to vote because of an error in paperwork if it is not material, the court ruled it only applies when the state is determining who may vote. It does not apply to how a voter must vote for it to be counted. The court also pointed to a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court case which unanimously agreed that Pennsylvania’s Election Code determines that mail-in voters are required to include the date, and therefore omitting the date renders the ballot invalid.

The Republican National Committee is celebrated the ruling in a Wednesday press release. Chairman Michael Whatley said, “[T]his is a crucial victory for election integrity and voter confidence in the Keystone State and nationwide.”