EASTON, Pa. - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a federal civil rights lawsuit today 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. The new legal action comes one day before the county’s board of elections is scheduled to certify the results of the general election.
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.
The five voters who filed suit also have asked the court to temporarily halt the county from certifying the results so that their case can be heard and their ballots counted.
“The right of every adult citizen to vote is fundamental, and that right cannot simply be erased by arbitrary rules,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “These 257 voters are being disenfranchised for the simple act of not providing the date, which is completely irrelevant to determining if they are eligible to vote since they properly submitted a ballot in time to be counted.”
The Lehigh County Office of Voter Registration initially intended to count the disqualified ballots, but a subsequent ruling in Commonwealth Court deemed them ineligible under state law, a ruling that was not reviewed by the state Supreme Court.
In the complaint filed today in federal court, the ACLU argues 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.
“We stand for the right of every citizen to vote and have their ballot counted,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The law is clear that our clients shouldn’t be disenfranchised based on a trivial and irrelevant technicality. The relevant law was forged through decades of struggle during which similar irrelevant hurdles were constantly put in front of voters, Black voters especially.
“We’re not going back to those bad old days. These 257 ballots from eligible voters should be counted.”
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. A copy of the complaint is available at aclupa.org/LehighBallots.