The Lead

State Supreme Court to rule on disqualifying mail-in ballot due to signatures

By: - October 14, 2020 2:45 pm

(Capital-Star photo)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to fast track a legal filing from the Department of State to ban counties from tossing mail-in ballots due to a bad signature.

The court said it would use its King’s Bench authority to rule on a request from Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar on whether state election code allows mail-in ballots with “perceived signature variances” to not be counted.

According to the New York Times, 32 states match the signature on a mail-in ballot to a signature on file from drivers’ licenses or a voter registration form. Of them, all but four will notify voters of a mismatch and allow the voter to fix the ballot.

Some election experts have argued that signature matching efforts leave a large chance to disenfranchise voters for a bad pen stroke.

Pennsylvania joined the 18 other states with a no-signature policy just recently. In September, the Department of State issued guidance to counties to ban invalidating ballots solely on signature analysis.

But a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign argued for the opposite.

The suit, which alleged mass voter fraud in Pennsylvania under the state’s newly adopted mail-in ballot law, asked for a court order allowing counties to throw out mail-in ballots when the voter’s signature does not match their signature on file.

A federal judge tossed the Trump lawsuit over the weekend for a lack of evidence of fraud. But before the lawsuit was thrown out, Boockvar petitioned the state Supreme Court to take a look at the matter, and affirm its stance on signatures. 

In her petition to the court, she expressed concerns that some counties might not follow her guidance.

Mail-in ballots will play an outsized role in the election due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a 2019 law which allows all Pennsylvanians to vote by mail.

As of Wednesday, counties have approved 2.6 million voters to cast their ballot by mail.

Boockvar, appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf, said she was “very pleased to hear” the court was taking up the case.

However, the court did not unanimously agree that they should use their King’s Bench power.

In a dissent, Justice Max Baer, elected as a Democrat, argued that the federal lawsuit had already achieved Boockvar’s aim.

“In substance, the Secretary’s request to this Court is essentially a letter asking us to interpret a provision of the Code,” Baer wrote. “While I recognize that in theory this Court may accept a King’s Bench petition with no pending action and no opposing parties, the operative question is whether it should. In my respectful view, under the circumstances of this matter, the answer is a resounding no.”

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.