PHILADELPHIA - A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled today that federal civil rights law requires Lehigh County to count 257 mail and absentee ballots that had been excluded from the 2021 general election because voters had not handwritten a date on the outer return envelope.
In a case brought by five county voters and argued by the American Civil Liberties Union, the court held that disqualifying voters’ timely received ballots for a minor paperwork error that is not relevant to their eligibility violates the federal Civil Rights Act. The voters had been disenfranchised because they mistakenly failed to handwrite an inconsequential date on the return envelope.
The following can be attributed to Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:
“This ruling is vindication for our voter clients and all 257 voters in Lehigh County who would have been disenfranchised for a simple mistake on their mail ballots. And today’s decision is an important moment in the struggle to ensure that people who choose to participate in elections have their votes counted. Dating the return envelope is irrelevant to determining a voter’s eligibility or whether they returned their ballots on time. The court agreed and understood that disqualifying those ballots is illegal.”
The following can be attributed to Ari Savitzky, senior staff attorney, ACLU Voting Rights Project:
“The right to vote cannot be denied based on minor paperwork errors that do not speak to a voter’s eligibility. Today’s important ruling vindicates that basic, common-sense principle, which Congress enshrined in federal law in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. These plaintiffs have been voting in Lehigh County for years, some for decades. They are registered and qualified, and they got their ballots in on time. They voted in this election, and, under federal law, their votes must and will be counted.”
The following can be attributed to Marian Schneider, senior voting rights policy counsel for the ACLU of Pennsylvania:
“The potential implications of this ruling are significant, and we look forward to reviewing the court’s full opinion. One percent of Lehigh County’s mail and absentee voters in the 2021 general election submitted their ballots on time but forgot to handwrite the date on their return envelopes. In a statewide, high-turnout election, disqualifying those ballots could disenfranchise tens of thousands of otherwise eligible voters.
“Harrisburg politicians may try to erect barriers to voting, but we will challenge them whenever their efforts run afoul of the law.
“The ACLU thanks our voter clients, all of whom are older adults who had the courage to sign on to this important lawsuit. We need courageous citizens like these plaintiffs to stand up against unjust and illegal government treatment to protect Americans’ most cherished rights.”
More information about this case, Migliori et al v. Lehigh County Board of Elections, is available at aclupa.org/LehighBallots.