US Supreme Court Blocked The Counting Of Some Ballots In Pennsylvania’s US Senate Tight Race

The Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked the counting of some mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, an order that could affect the tight Republican Senate primary between former hedge fund CEO David McCormick and celebrity heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz.

An order from Justice Samuel Alito paused a lower-court ruling in a lawsuit over a disputed 2021 local court election that would have allowed the counting of mail-in ballots that lacked a handwritten date.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia had ruled that the state election law’s requirement of a date next to the voter’s signature on the outside of return envelopes was “immaterial.”

Based on that ruling, the state had advised counties to count those ballots in the race between McCormick and Oz.

As McCormick scrounges for ballots to make up the gap with Oz, Alito’s order also could freeze a separate federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania in which McCormick is fighting to force counties to count the ballots.

The high court’s action, called an administrative stay, freezes the matter until the court can give it further consideration.

The state law requires voters to write a date on the envelope in which they mail in their ballots. However, the envelope is postmarked by the post office and timestamped by counties when they receive it.

Lawsuit filed on behalf of five voters in Lehigh County who, along with 252 other voters, had their ballots rejected because there was not a handwritten date next to their voter declaration signature on the outer ballot envelope. Because of this, these 257 ballots were not counted in an election to select a judge to the Court of Common Pleas. After a state court ruled that the ballots could not be counted, the plaintiffs filed this lawsuit alleging that not counting these ballots violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and First and 14th Amendments because ballots are rejected for an “immaterial technical defect” and this unduly burdens voters. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, ruling that provision of the Civil Rights Act under which the plaintiffs brought their claim does not create a private right of action, meaning that the plaintiffs cannot sue under this provision. The district court also rejected the plaintiffs’ 14th Amendment claim.

The plaintiffs appealed this decision to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which expedited the appeal and ordered Lehigh County to not certify the election results until the court took further action. The 3rd Circuit held that the undated ballots should not be rejected for an “immaterial technical defect” and should be counted. The court also found that the Civil Rights Act creates a private right of action. The Republican candidate in this race filed an emergency application in the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to pause the 3rd Circuit’s ruling, which the Court granted. This means that the 3rd Circuit’s opinion is paused and the previous status quo — not counted undated ballots — is back in effect.

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AP News contributed to the article.

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