Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. and U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman filed a lawsuit in federal court on Monday challenging a court ruling last week that has resulted in thousands of mail-in ballots being discounted.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in a split decision that mail-in ballots with the wrong date on the mailing envelope should be set aside and not included in vote counts. People who vote by mail in Pennsylvania are required to sign and date the outer envelope containing their ballot.
The ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed by the Republican National Committee, the Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, as part of a deluge of election-related lawsuits that Republicans have filed to challenge mail-in voting.
Fetterman and Democrats are suing to get the ballots counted, arguing that the decision goes against the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits election officials from denying voting access based on an error on a document that is “not material” in determining a person’s voting eligibility. The lawsuit also says that not counting the ballots violates the First and 14th Amendments.
The requirement to date the envelope “serves no legitimate purpose,” the lawsuit reads, saying that ballots received before the deadline are “definitionally timely.”
“The Date Instruction imposes unnecessary hurdles that eligible Pennsylvanians must clear to exercise their most fundamental right, resulting in otherwise valid votes being arbitrarily rejected without any reciprocal benefit to the Commonwealth,” Fetterman attorneys and the Democrats wrote. “It furthers no governmental interest, and, consequently, the burden it imposes on voters — including Plaintiffs — violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.”
It’s unclear how many ballots have been set aside by election officials. But polls show that the race — between Democratic candidate Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz — is incredibly close, and the mail-in ballots could determine the result of the election.
“As we fight this latest Republican attack on Americans’ democratic rights, Pennsylvanians should check their ballot status to ensure their vote is counted,” Fetterman and the Democrats said in a joint statement about the suit. “We are committed to using every tool at our disposal to protect Pennsylvanians’ constitutional right to participate in this election, including defeating the GOP in court.”
The Republicans’ lawsuit sent Pennsylvania voters scrambling to ensure that their ballots were cast. Voters were informed that their ballots were invalidated on Monday — just one day before Election Day. One voter told The Washington Post that she was in Colorado when she found out and decided to fly back home at her own expense in order to cast a ballot.
Many went to Philadelphia City Hall, where they were met by a two-hour line as voters eagerly waited to cast new votes. Some voters reported that they were still waiting in line when City Hall closed and police told the remaining people in line to leave.
Election volunteers said others who had cast mail-in ballots would simply be unable to cast a ballot due to the Republicans’ lawsuit because they have a disability or didn’t have transportation. And in many parts of Pennsylvania, counties don’t require officials to notify voters when their ballots are deemed invalid, meaning that many voters may never know that their votes weren’t counted if the state Supreme Court ruling stands.