PHILADELPHIA – A federal appeals court in Philadelphia today overturned a district court ruling to count mail ballots from eligible voters that are received on time but without a handwritten date or the incorrect date on the outer return envelope.

The case, NAACP v. Schmidt, was brought by six public interest advocacy organizations and several voters, represented by the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the law firm Hogan Lovells.

The organizations and voters challenged the disqualification of ballots based on the envelope date issue under the materiality provision of the federal Civil Rights Act, which prohibits disqualifying voters due to paperwork mistakes on required forms that aren’t relevant to the voters’ eligibility.

The following can be attributed to Mike Lee, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:

“If this ruling stands, thousands of Pennsylvania voters could lose their vote over a meaningless paperwork error. The ballots in question in this case come from voters who are eligible and who met the submission deadline. In passing the Civil Rights Act, Congress put a guardrail in place to be sure that states don’t erect unnecessary barriers that disenfranchise voters. It’s unfortunate that the court failed to recognize that principle. Voters lose as a result of this ruling.”

The following can be attributed to Ari Savitzky, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, who argued the case before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals:

“The thousands of voters affected here are eligible and registered. They completed their mail ballots, signed the return envelope, and got their ballots in on time. Their votes should count.  We strongly disagree with the panel majority’s conclusion that voters may be disenfranchised for a minor paperwork error like forgetting to write an irrelevant date on the return envelope of their mail ballot.  We are considering all of our options at this time.  And we will not stop fighting for voters.”

The following can be attributed to Philip Hensley-Robin, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania:

“This ruling means that counties will be permitted to throw out ballots that were submitted in time, for reasons irrelevant to the voters’ eligibility to vote. We are disheartened by this ruling and maintain our position that every voter who makes the effort to participate should have their vote counted. But our work will continue regardless. Though this ruling will undoubtedly have a negative impact on elderly voters and voters of color, we will work with partners to ensure that voters across the state of Pennsylvania know how to make sure their votes are counted.”

More information about this case, including a copy of the opinion, is available at