A five-judge panel on Pennsylvania's state Commonwealth Court has ruled the state's Republican-created vote-by-mail law to be unconstitutional, setting up a state Supreme Court showdown for November.
A Pennsylvania court struck down the state’s expansive mail-in voting law as unconstitutional, delivering a temporary win to state Republicans who challenged the law after former president Donald Trump falsely claimed mail-in voting resulted in election fraud.
While the two-year-old law was struck down by a majority of the five-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and the state’s Attorney General, Josh Shapiro (D), promised a swift appeal, criticizing the court’s opinion as being “based on twisted logic and faulty reasoning.”
“The administration will immediately appeal this decision to the state Supreme Court and today’s lower court ruling will have no immediate effect on mail-in voting pending a final decision on the appeal,” Wolf said Friday.
The state’s Republican-controlled legislature passed the law establishing no-excuse mail-in voting for all voters in 2019 with bipartisan support. Previously, Pennsylvania voters could cast absentee ballots if they met certain criteria.
Amid the pandemic, more than 2.6 million Pennsylvania voters cast mail-in or absentee ballots out of 6.9 million.
The court said Friday that any changes to the voting law would require a constitutional amendment.
“No-excuse mail-in voting makes the exercise of the franchise more convenient and has been used four times in the history of Pennsylvania. Approximately 1.38 million voters have expressed their interest in voting by mail permanently,” Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote. “If presented to the people, a constitutional amendment to end the Article VII, Section 1 requirement of in-person voting is likely to be adopted. But a constitutional amendment must be presented to the people and adopted into our fundamental law before legislation authorizing no-excuse mail-in voting can ‘be placed upon our statute books.’ ”
In bringing the legal challenge, some Republicans in the state echoed Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and his criticism of mail-in voting, with several seeking to undo the law for which they they once voted.
In a statement to The Washington Post, Wolf pointed out the GOP reversal.
“The Republican-controlled legislature passed Act 77 with strong bipartisan support in 2019 to make voting more safe, secure, and accessible and millions of Pennsylvanians have embraced it,” Wolf said. “The simple fact is that despite near-unanimous Republican legislative support for this historic update to Pennsylvania election law, they now want to strip away mail-in voting in the service of the ‘big lie.’”
Shapiro, in his statement, stressed that the court’s ruling will not have “any immediate impact” on upcoming elections. The state is holding both gubernatorial and a U.S. Senate election this year.
The Pennsylvania Department of State also said in a statement that it disagreed with the ruling and that it is “working to file an immediate appeal” to the state’s Supreme Court, which has a 5-to-2 Democratic majority.
States are not engaging in trying to suppress voters whatsoever,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared last year.
Facts on the ground in Georgia tell a different story. A new data analysis by Mother Jones shows that the number of voters disenfranchised by rejected mail ballot applications skyrocketed after the GOP-controlled legislature passed sweeping new restrictions on mail voting last year. The law enacted in March 2021 shortened the time people have to request and return mail ballots, prohibited election officials from sending such applications to all voters, added new ID requirements, and dramatically curtailed the use of ballot drop boxes, among other changes.
During municipal elections in November, Georgia voters were 45 times more likely to have their mail ballot applications rejected—and ultimately not vote as a result—than in 2020. If that same rejection rate were extrapolated to the 2020 race, more than 38,000 votes would not have been cast in a presidential contest decided by just over 11,000 votes.