HARRISBURG - The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled today that state law allows county bureaus of elections to set up drop boxes and satellite offices to accept mail and absentee ballots.
In a lawsuit brought by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, the court also found that Pennsylvania law requiring all mail and absentee ballots to be delivered to the county elections office by 8 p.m. on Election Day is unconstitutional under the state constitution during the coronavirus pandemic and because of problems documented with the postal service, and that ballots that arrive by 5 p.m. on Friday, November 6, will be counted, provided there is no evidence that the ballots were mailed after Election Day.
A team of voting rights advocates first attempted to intervene in the case and then, when their motion was denied, filed a friend-of-the-court brief. The brief was filed by The Black Political Empowerment Project, Common Cause Pennsylvania, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, and Make The Road Pennsylvania and three individual voters. In its ruling, the court agreed with most of the advocates’ positions.
The advocates are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the ACLU Voting Rights Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Public Interest Law Center, and the law firm WilmerHale.
The following is reaction to today’s ruling:
Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania: “Today’s ruling is a win for voters. This case has always been about promoting safe access to the ballot for all eligible voters in the commonwealth, and the court understood the importance of lowering barriers to voting.”
Sarah Brannon, managing attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project: “This ruling is a huge victory for voting rights and for the millions of Pennsylvanians who wish to vote safely in the November election.”
Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO with The Black Empowerment Project: “The Black Political Empowerment Project was proud to be a partner with advocacy organizations that believe in protecting the right to vote. The fact that the state Supreme Court has ruled in our favor to allow counties to have drop boxes is important for extending the opportunity of people to utilize their right to vote. With so many stories of delays in the U.S. mail, we think it is also important that, under these unusual circumstances, people will have their ballots counted, as long as they are in the mail by Election Day. BPEP’s mission is to encourage African-Americans to vote in each and every election, and we feel that the court’s decision supports that objective.”
Suzanne Almeida, interim executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania: “Today’s state Supreme Court ruling is good news for Pennsylvania voters, whether they choose to vote in person or by mail. Ballot drop boxes and extended return dates are both important parts of safely administering this election, because they give voters more opportunities to return their mail ballots. Our commonwealth is stronger when every eligible voter can participate in an accessible, safe, and secure election. Today’s Supreme Court decision will help ensure Pennsylvania voters can vote the way they want to, and have their voices heard, in November.”
Mimi McKenzie, legal director at the Public Interest Law Center: “This is a win for democracy. Today, the court recognized that Pennsylvania voters, whether voting by mail or voting in person, deserve access to the ballot box and confidence that their vote will be counted.”
Maegan Llerena, executive director of Make The Road Pennsylvania: "This attack on voters was caused by Pennsylvania being a tipping-point battleground state and was an attempt to suppress our votes and all of the hard work we are doing. We are extremely grateful that the PA Supreme Court has decided to rule on the changes for the 2020 elections. This is the election of our lifetimes, and we are less than 47 days away from the election. These changes will allow tens of thousands more people to vote by mail and overall increase everyone's access to voting."
Terrie Griffin, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania: “Today’s decision is a huge victory for Pennsylvania voters, especially those who are at high risk of severe illness from the COVID-19 virus. During a deadly global pandemic, voters must be given more safe options for casting their votes, not new barriers that they must navigate to make their voices heard. Today’s ruling protects voters’ health and their right to safe, reliable access to the vote. The League will continue to inform voters of their options for casting their ballots this year, which now includes secure drop boxes.”
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law: “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s historic decision preserves access to mail voting at a time when it’s never been more critical. The court’s well-reasoned decision protects the right to cast a vote by mail that will count, and it protects voters whose health are at risk due to COVID-19.”
In a separate lawsuit, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is challenging some of the same issues before a federal district court in western Pennsylvania. The court previously delayed that case, pending the outcome of the Democrats’ lawsuit in state court.
More information about the case, including the advocates’ brief and the expert reports that accompanied it, is available at aclupa.org/Democrats.