The validity of undated mail-in ballots could be a major issue in Pennsylvania during the November midterm elections.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court declined to block a lower-court decision that permitted the counting of undated mail-in ballots in a Pennsylvania judicial election.
But even with this dissent, which included three Republican-appointed justices aligning with the majority opinion — Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Neil Gorsuch, and Justice Samuel Alito — there doesn't seem to be much clarity for how future undated ballots will be handled or processed during Pennsylvania elections.
Does Thursday's ruling represent a broad acceptance of all undated ballots, as long as the ballots get to the right precinct before the voting deadline?
Or, does it merely a cover a narrow collection of hypothetical undated ballots?
Officially, the Supreme Court didn't provide a rationale for its Thursday decision, which mainly stems from a Lehigh County judicial contest from 2021 (David Ritter vs. Zachary Cohen).
However, one justice had plenty to say about the matter.
"When a mail-in ballot is not counted because it was not filled out correctly, the voter is not denied the right to vote," Alito wrote.
"Rather, that individual's vote is not counted because he or she did not follow the rules for casting a ballot. Casting a vote, whether by following the directions for using a voting machine or completing a paper ballot, requires compliance with certain rules."
According to reports, David Ritter, a Republican state judicial candidate, had previously contested a batch of undated mail-in ballots, arguing the ballots shouldn't have been counted in his race.
Ritter eventually asked the Supreme Court to block a ruling from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ordered the ballots to be counted.
Justice Alito apparently disputed the 3rd Circuit's interpretation of federal law — requiring the undated mail ballots to be counted, even though state law seemingly dictates otherwise — but not the final ruling.
"A State's refusal to count the votes of these voters does not constitute a denial of 'the right to vote,'" Alito wrote. "Even the most permissive voting rules must contain some requirements; and the failure to follow those rules constitutes the forfeiture of the right to vote, not the denial of that right."
Last week, the Republican Senate primary race in Pennsylvania had a mandatory recount situation, pitting Dr. Mehmet Oz against David McCormick.
While Oz eventually won the recount, there were initial fears of disputed mail-in ballots further holding up the proceedings.
It's possible that similar disputes with undated mail-in ballots could arise for the midterm elections, even after the Supreme Court's rendering.
"The Third Circuit's interpretation broke new ground, and at this juncture, it appears to me that interpretation is very likely wrong," Alito wrote.
"If left undisturbed, it could well affect the outcome of the fall elections, and it would be far better for us to address that interpretation before, rather than after, it has that effect."
According the DOS Voting and Election Information website, Pennsylvanians who cannot vote in person on election day have two alternative options with mailed-in ballots.
Mail-in ballot: Any qualified voter may apply for a mail-in ballot. You may simply request this ballot without a reason.
Absentee ballot: If you plan to be out of the municipality on election day or if you have a disability or illness that prevents you from going to your polling place on election day, you can request this ballot type, which still requires you to list a reason for your ballot.
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