On January 31, 2022, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Lehigh County to require the county to count 257 mail-in ballots from the 2021 general election that were disqualified only because they were missing the handwritten date on the outer envelope in which the ballot is placed for mailing or submission. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of five county residents, all of whom are qualified to vote and whose ballots arrived to the elections bureau in time to be tabulated. All 257 voters impacted by the disqualification of their ballots for not including the date are otherwise eligible to vote and properly followed the procedures for voting by mail.
In the complaint, the ACLU states that disqualifying the undated ballots runs afoul of both the federal Civil Rights Act and the Constitution. The Civil Rights Act prohibits disqualifying a person’s vote if the reason for disqualification is “not material in determining whether such individual is qualified under State law to vote(.)”
The lawsuit also states that the county’s failure to notify the voters of the errors violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Finally, the plaintiffs state that the date requirement is “superfluous” and an undue burden that restricts their right to vote, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
On March 16, the federal district court ruled against the voters. On May 20, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in favor of the voters, ordering the 257 ballots to be counted, and accompanied their judgment with a precedential opinion released a week later.
On May 31, the Supreme Court of the United States temporarily halted, or stayed, the circuit court's ruling while the justices considered the case. On June 9, 2022, the Supreme Court denied the stay in a 6-3 ruling, leaving the appeals court ruling in place and clearing the way for the ballots to be counted.
On October 11, 2022, months after the Lehigh County election had been certified, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the lower courts' rulings, meaning that the appeals court ruling is no longer precedent in the federal Third Circuit.