In a victory for Republicans, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court told state election officials on Tuesday not to count mail-in ballots that don't have the correct date on the envelope. The ruling could make the difference in close races, potentially deciding control of Congress in next week's midterm elections, Reuters reports. In addition to a race for governor, Pennsylvania has a close race for US senator between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz. The order did not explain the court's reasoning, saying that opinions would be issued later.
The state's Supreme Court, which is short a member, knotted 3-3 on whether not counting those ballots is a violation of the federal law that prohibits throwing away for minor reasons. So the court told county election officials to "segregate and preserve any ballots contained in undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes" in case its ruling is overturned or a higher court decides discarding them is illegal. The decision appears likely to cost Democrats more votes, since a higher percentage of their voters cast their ballots by mail, per Politico. The lawsuit was filed by individual voters and GOP organizations including the Republican National Committee.
Pennsylvania says voters must put a date on their ballots, though the law also says that to count, the ballots must be received by election officials by the close of polls. So the date when they're cast doesn't affect whether the ballots are counted. The fight has been going on in the courts for years; the county election boards were ordered not to throw out absentee or mail-in ballots based on signature comparisons in 2020. Democrats argued that rejecting ballots was an effort to take votes from Joe Biden in his presidential race against Donald Trump. This year, the United States Elections Project says more than 900,000 Pennsylvania mail-ballots have been sent in, over 70% of them from people registered as Democrats. (Read more Pennsylvania stories.)