Judge will rule on hundreds of Berks, Lancaster and Fayette counties ballots in limbo since youth ministry

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HARRISBURG, Dad. (TBEN) — A Pennsylvania judge on Thursday was urged by state attorneys to order three counties to add some 800 mailed ballots to their primary election results in May, but local election officials insisted their decisions are firmly anchored in unequivocal state law.

A six-hour hearing in Harrisburg was the latest in a series of recent court proceedings over absentee and post-in ballot rules, an ongoing battle in which Democrats embraced voting by mail under a 2019 law against Republicans who see inconsistent practices and widespread confusion about what is legal.

Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman sued the three counties after they refused to follow her guidelines in response to a federal appeals court decision that banned handwritten dates on the outer envelope of a ballot paper sent in — required by law — not required. to be.

Jeff Bukowski, attorney for Berks and Lancaster counties, called the lawsuit “an inflated case or controversy” brought to enforce a policy favored by Chapman, not a complaint from an aggrieved voter or candidate.

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He told Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer that local election officials “need some clarity and at the very least a means by which the electoral councils can, hopefully sooner rather than later, get clearer advice on all relevant issues.”

The votes, including some from Fayette County, aren’t expected to change the results of the state’s presidential and U.S. Senate primaries this year, but Jubelirer’s decision could clarify whether incorrect or missing dates are on those envelopes. can form the basis for future voting. -counting challenges.

Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach testified that in his county, where most votes were voided, counting them could change election races for the state party.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if I understood that it would affect the outcome of some of those races,” said Leinbach, a Republican.

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The dates are not required to demonstrate that the ballots were sent on time — district officials separately verify that they were received by the time the polls close on Election Day — but are required by Pennsylvania electoral law for the ballots sent in that are sent. counted in provincial elections officials.

Ray D’Agostino, commissioner of Lancaster County, a Republican, testified that he sees value in the handwritten dates because they “verify the validity and authenticity of the ballot received” and can raise red flags that prompt further investigation.

The lawsuit was filed this month after officials rejected Chapman’s request to reverse decisions to throw 507 Democratic and 138 Republican ballots in Berks, 45 Democratic and six Republican ballots in Fayette and 46 Democratic and 38 Republican ballots in Lancaster. Several other counties that had initially voted not to count such ballots followed Chapman’s guidelines and included them in their final count.

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The state Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that the date mandate not only applied to that fall’s election, but it was a divided decision that set no clear precedent. This year, failed GOP Senate candidate David McCormick tried to get ballots without counting the date and won a court order counting them separately, but he withdrew his lawsuit and admitted the race.

Chapman’s advisory was issued following a May ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that handwritten dates on outer envelopes were not required in a 2021 Lehigh County judicial election.

Pennsylvania Republicans have pushed for limiting the use of postal voting, while Democrats embraced the system during the pandemic. A legal challenge to the 2019 law that significantly expanded postal voting in Pennsylvania is currently pending in the state Supreme Court, and another was recently filed.

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