SCOTUS allows undated ballots to be counted in Pennsylvania election

The U.S. Supreme Court just issued a ruling that could have a significant impact on the upcoming midterm elections in Pennsylvania.

The Washington Examiner reports that the justices have decided not to overturn a lower court decision that allowed the counting of undated ballot envelopes in a recent judicial election. 


This case has to do with a local judicial election that took place in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, in 2021. The election was between David Ritter, the Republican candidate, and Zachary Cohen, the Democratic candidate.

Controversy arose in the election over a number of undated ballots. Ritter has argued that the ballots should not be counted because, according to him, they violate state law.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with Ritter. It ruled that the ballot ought to be counted. Ritter, accordingly, took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

SCOTUS chooses not to get involved

The justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, this week, chose to let the 3rd Circuit’s decision stand. The justices, however, did not explain how they came to their decision. So, we have no idea what reasoning lies behind it.

What we did get, though, is a dissent authored by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch. These justices, in contrast to their colleagues, made it clear why they do not agree with the court’s decision.

Alito argued:

When a mail-in ballot is not counted because it was not filled out correctly, the voter is not denied the right to vote. 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.

Alito later added:

A State’s refusal to count the votes of these voters does not constitute a denial of ‘the right to vote. 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.

It all seems to be commonsense stuff, which makes it even more puzzling as to how the other justices reached the opposite conclusion.

Looking ahead

Alito, in his dissent, pointed out that the court’s decision, “if left undisturbed . . . could well affect the outcome of the fall elections.” Accordingly, he called for his colleagues to address the issue now rather than later.

We’ll see if the court heeds Alito’s advice. If it doesn’t, we could be heading for more controversy in the midterm elections.

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