Court Battles

Pennsylvania court strikes down state’s mail voting law as unconstitutional

A Pennsylvania court on Friday ruled the state’s mail-in voting law is unconstitutional, with the case likely heading to the state’s Supreme Court.

The 2019 law allows any voter to vote by mail without providing a reason and contains a number of other provisions aimed at making it easier to cast a ballot. Republicans are arguing it violates an amendment to the state constitution.

Commonwealth Court Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt agreed with that argument, writing the law violates the 1838 amendment that says a person must vote in-person on Election Day unless they meet certain criteria. She wrote the law can only be changed through another constitutional amendment. 

“No-excuse mail-in voting makes the exercise of the franchise more convenient and has been used four times in the history of Pennsylvania,” Leavitt wrote.

“If presented to the people, a constitutional amendment to end the Article VII, Section 1 requirement of in-person voting is likely to be adopted. But a constitutional amendment must be presented to the people and adopted into our fundamental law before legislation authorizing no-excuse mail-in voting can ‘be placed upon our statute books’,” she added.

The 2019 law was initially seen as bipartisan, passed by a GOP-controlled legislature and signed by a Democratic governor, NBC News reported. But it became controversial following former President Trump’s loss in the state and subsequent claims of voter fraud related to mail-in ballots. Fourteen Republicans sued over the law in 2021.

The Pennsylvania State Department has told NBC News it will be appealing the decision to the state’s Supreme Court, which would automatically place a stay on Friday’s ruling and temporarily leave the law in place. 

The Hill has reached out to the state’s State Department for comment.

The Democratic National Committee, the state’s Democratic party and local Republican committees are fighting against the lawsuit, arguing the law is constitutional. 

Josh Shapiro (D), the state’s attorney general who is also running for governor, wrote that the “opinion is based on twisted logic and faulty reasoning, and is wrong on the law. It will be immediately appealed and therefore won’t have any immediate impact on Pennsylvania’s upcoming elections.”

He added, “More than 5M mail-in ballots have been cast by voters of both parties in the 4 elections since our bipartisan mail-in voting law was signed in 2019. More Republicans voted for this law than Democrats.”

Republicans, however, lauded the ruling.

“I welcome the end of ‘no-excuse’ mail-in voting in Pennsylvania and I introduced legislation this session that does just that,” Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who is also running for governor, wrote on Twitter Friday.

Trump also weighed in a statement. “Big news out of Pennsylvania, great patriotic spirit is developing at a level that nobody thought possible. Make America Great Again!” he said.  

Pennsylvania is considered a key swing state in presidential elections, with the state being key to both Trump’s victory in 2016 and his loss in 2020, when President Biden got 50 percent of the vote to Trump’s 48 percent.

Trump and his supporters have falsely claimed that mail-in voting fraud is part of the reason he lost the election.

Pennsylvania is also in the spotlight during this year’s midterms, with a highly competitive gubernatorial race and a Senate race that could decide control of the currently 50-50 chamber.

Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is term-limited and unable to seek reelection. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey has announced his retirement. Both seats are open and crowded primary fields for Democrats and Republicans have emerged. 

–Updated at 2:18 p.m.

Court Battles