The U.S. Supreme Court uphelda Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision Oct. 19 that allows mail-in ballots to be counted until Nov. 6, three days after Election Day, as long as the envelopes are postmarked by Election Day, according to a Politico article.
An Indiana district court filed a similar lawsuit in July asking for mail-in ballots to be accepted 10 days after being postmarked by Election Day and received approval. However, earlier this month, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals repealed this decision, enforcing the original rule that ballots must be received by noon Nov. 3 to be counted.
The main reason for these similar cases having different decisions boils down to a difference in past court decisions and state legislation.
The 7th Circuit referenced a case from earlier in October, Tully v. Okeson, and argued that difficulties stemming from the coronavirus don’t require a change in electoral rules as a Constitutional matter.
“As long as it is possible to vote in person, the rules for absentee ballots are constitutionally valid if they are supported by a rational basis and do not discriminate based on a forbidden characteristic such as race or sex,” the appeal decision said.
The decision said people who worry their ballot won’t be sent and delivered on time can avoid the worry by voting in person, arguing there’s been plenty of time to request, fill out and mail a ballot on time.
“During a pandemic a reasonable person entitled to vote by mail transmits the ballot earlier than normal or uses another approved method,” the decision said. “Those who act at the last minute assume risks even without a pandemic.”
In Pennsylvania, the state has a statute that allows the governor to declare an emergency disaster through an executive order, and per this statute, the state’s Supreme Court declared the COVID-19 pandemic to be equitable to a natural disaster.
Pennsylvania typically requires ballots to be received by 8 p.m. Election Day, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the U.S. Postal Service — which warned that submitting timely ballot requests and completed ballots still won’t make the received-by deadline — the court decided not allowing a three-day extension would be an infringement on the state’s Free and Equal Elections Clause in its constitution.
“We conclude that this extension of the received-by deadline protects voters’ rights while being least at variance with Pennsylvania’s permanent election calendar, which we respect and do not alter lightly, even temporarily,” said the opinion.
The Pennsylvania Republican Party tried to expedite a request to shorten the mail-in deadline after Amy Coney Barrett was recently confirmed to the Supreme Court, but the bid was denied Wednesday.