Pa. justices keep mail voting law in place, at least for now

Chester County election workers sort, inspect, flatten and scan mail in ballots at the West Chester University gym.

Chester County election workers sort, inspect, flatten, and scan mail in ballots at the West Chester University gym. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting law will remain in place, at least for the near future, despite a state judge’s order that would have made it expire in two weeks, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The justices issued a one-paragraph order that overturned a Feb. 16 decision by Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt that would have pulled the plug on the state’s 2-year-old voting law.

The Supreme Court plans to hold oral argument Tuesday regarding the legal challenge the law. The justices’ decision to invalidate Leavitt’s order gives themselves more time to rule without facing a one-week deadline.

They said the law will remain in place, pending further action by the high court.

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The administration of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf asked the Supreme Court last week to keep the law intact during the litigation, arguing that stopping mail-in voting ahead of the spring primary season “would, if anything, only exacerbate voter confusion and the danger of disenfranchisement.”

Pennsylvania ended most restrictions against mail-in voting in 2019 as part of a deal in which Republican legislative leaders obtained an end to straight-ticket voting.

Democrats have used the mail-in opinion far more than have Republicans during the pandemic. Many of the Republicans in the General Assembly who voted for the 2019 now oppose it, including 11 of the plaintiffs in the current legal challenge.

Leavitt and two fellow Republican judges ruled in January that no-excuse mail-in voting is prohibited under the Pennsylvania Constitution. Two Democrats dissented, saying the constitution permits no excuse under a provision that says elections “shall be by ballot or by such other method as may be prescribed by law.”

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Nearly 5 million votes were cast by mail over 2020-21. As of August, nearly 1.4 million Pennsylvania voters were signed up for permanent mail-in voting notification.

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