Pennsylvania was a swing state in the 2016 presidential election, giving then-candidate Donald Trump a razor-thin victory margin of 44,000 votes. Yesterday, in a series of election-related lawsuits, the Commonwealth’s Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision in the lead case, extended the election deadline three days for mailed-in (aka absentee) ballots from November 3 to November 6. It ruled that county election boards could use remote drop-off locations and denied the Green Party a place on the presidential ballot.
CNN called it “a sweeping victory for Democrats,” who brought the legal actions recently in order to get Pennsylvania’s courts to modify a recent 2019 state election law to relax some of its requirements.
The court’s majority reasoned that it was entitled to exercise its authority under the state’s election law to grant the extraordinary relief requested. The arguments against extending the time as Democrats requested relied on: 1) the clear deadline set by the legislature; and 2) the necessity for meeting federal deadlines for recording and reporting votes, including Electoral College requirements.
In this case, the court decided that due to the U.S. Postal Service’s admission that mail delivery had slipped by a couple days nationally, plus the increased demand for mail-in ballots due to the pandemic, it was likely that some Pennsylvania voters would be disenfranchised because their ballots would not reach election officials in time.
“We have no hesitation in concluding that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic equates to a natural disaster,” Justice Max Baer’s majority opinion reads. “Moreover, the effects of the pandemic threatened the disenfranchisement of thousands of Pennsylvanians during the 2020 Primary, when several of the Commonwealth’s county election boards struggled to process the flow of mail-in ballot applications for voters who sought to avoid exposure to the virus.”
Pennsylvania’s primary in June was plagued with multi-week delays in tabulating mail-in ballots, after a record number of 1.8 million such ballots were requested. Typically, state officials receive 80-100,000 requests for absentee ballots.
The dissent noted that the court should have moved the deadline for requesting a mail-in ballot back several days, rather than extending the deadline for receipt of the ballots beyond the time set by the legislature.
A related problem with elections in the Commonwealth this year is that, by state law, county election boards cannot begin counting votes until Election Day, whereas other states begin counting mail-in ballots as they arrive. The Republican-majority legislature and the Democrat Governor, Tom Wolf, are “scrambling to make changes,” according to Politico, but it is unclear whether any resolution will be reached prior to the election.
Another action taken by the justices involved disqualifying the Green Party presidential candidate, Howie Hawkins, from appearing on the presidential ballot because of procedural flaws in his paperwork. With no Green Party candidate, whose supporters are presumed to be liberal in their political worldview, the conventional wisdom is that those voters would naturally gravitate to the Democrat Party presidential candidate. If so, the court’s decision should stand to benefit Vice President Joe Biden’s candidacy.
Could that make a difference in the 2020 election? History suggests it could.
In the 2016 elections, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein received nearly 50,000 votes in Pennsylvania, which if they had been cast for Hillary Clinton, would have put her over the top as the victor there and rewarded her with the Commonwealth’s 20 Electoral College votes.
In a close 2020 race, Pennsylvania could be the margin of victory in the race for the presidency.
One aspect of the Pennsylvania court decisions yesterday was applauded by President Trump, and that was the justices’ rejection of Democrats’ request to allow “ballot harvesting,” i.e., the collection of ballots and delivery to election officials by a third party, an action expressly forbidden by Pennsylvania law. The practice creates a very real possibility for election fraud, which is why several states prohibit it.
“State Supreme Court in Pennsylvania just affirmed that Ballot harvesting remains illegal,” the president tweeted. “We will be watching that the Democrats do not Ballot Harvest — a felony. In other words, the Republican Party won on the atrocious Ballot Harvesting Scam.”
The Daily Citizen will be following developments in the 2020 election closely. You can check out our Election 2020 website here.
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