National, state Democrats attempt to intervene in lawsuit over Pa.’s vote-by-mail law

‘We stand ready to step in to defend the freedom to vote wherever partisan lawsuits are brought to attack voters’ ability to cast a ballot,’ DNC Chairperson Jaime Harrison said in a statement

By: - October 11, 2021 2:54 pm

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Arguing that no-excuse, mail-in voting creates “equal opportunity” to participate in elections, Democrats at the state and national level have asked to join litigation brought by House Republicans to repeal Pennsylvania’s vote-by-mail law.

The Democratic National Committee and Pennsylvania Democratic Party requested to intervene in a lawsuit filed in August by 14 legislative Republicans who asked the Commonwealth Court to declare the law unconstitutional. In a 34-page suit, Republicans asked the court to prevent Pennsylvania from issuing mail-in ballots to voters without a work, health, or religious excuse to justify not voting in-person at the polls.

But Democrats, who filed the request on Friday, say eliminating the option to vote by mail will affect voter turnout, especially among working families and minority communities.

“The DNC is taking action to ensure that all eligible Pennsylvania voters are given an equal opportunity to participate in our elections, and we stand ready to step in to defend the freedom to vote wherever partisan lawsuits are brought to attack voters’ ability to cast a ballot,” DNC Chairperson Jaime Harrison said in a statement.

If approved, the interveners and their attorneys will join the case and participate in legal proceedings.

“It is more important than ever that we keep up the fight for stronger participation in our democracy, and we are proud to stand with our partners to defend the voices of everyday Pennsylvanians,” Nancy Patton Mills, the chairperson of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said in a statement.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, signed the law — Act 77 — in 2019. It received bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled Legislature, and allowed for no-excuse, mail-in voting. Since carrying out several elections with the changes, county election officials have said there are issues with Act 77, but their calls for reform have focused on pushing back the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot and allowing more time for mail-in ballot pre-canvassing, or the processing of ballots before they’re counted.

Previously reported by the Capital-Star, 11 of the 14 House GOP lawmakers who filed the suit voted for the law; two were not in the General Assembly at the time, and one, state Rep. David Zimmerman, R-Lancaster, voted against it. Nine plaintiffs signed a December 2020 letter asking Congress to object to Pennsylvania’s electoral college results, and most were involved in other efforts to delegitimize the 2020 election.

Their suit argues that the change should have been presented to voters as a constitutional amendment rather than legislation. However, lawmakers abandoned the amendment process when they reached an agreement with Wolf on the framework for Act 77, which traded approval for mail-in ballots for eliminated straight-ticket voting and funding for new voting machines.

Second thoughts on mail-in voting started after former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election to now-President Joe Biden and launched a campaign of baseless voter fraud claims to cast doubt on the results.

Trump allies, including Pennsylvania lawmakers, and lawmakers who won reelection in 2020, have repeated the unsubstantiated allegations. In a lawsuit filed after the 2020 election, U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th District, attempted to invalidate millions of mail-in ballots. The state Supreme Court tossed the suit, arguing it was too late to challenge the law. Two conservative justices, the minority on the seven-member bench, signaled an interest in hearing arguments.

As required by law, all 67 Pennsylvania counties conducted post-election audits of a statistical sampling after the 2020 general election. Sixty-three counties conducted “risk-limiting” audits. Neither review found evidence of voter fraud or election misconduct.

More than 2.6 million Pennsylvania voters cast their ballot by mail in the 2020 General Election. In May, the Department of State, which has election oversight, reported more than 605,000 mail-in ballots cast in the primary election. 

And ahead of the Nov. 2 general election, 860,000 voters have applied for a mail-in ballot, according to state data.

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Marley Parish
Marley Parish

A Pennsylvania native, Marley Parish covers the Senate for the Capital-Star. She previously reported on government, education and community issues for the Centre Daily Times and has a background in writing, editing and design. A graduate of Allegheny College, Marley served as editor of the campus newspaper, where she also covered everything from student government to college sports.

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