Pennsylvania court declares state absentee ballot law unconstitutional

By Dianne Gallagher and Kelly Mena, CNN

A Pennsylvania appeals court on Friday struck down a law that allows mail-in voting without an excuse, saying it violates the state constitution.

The law, known as Law 77, was signed into law in late 2019 with strong bipartisan support. But in September, more than a dozen Republicans in the State House – most of whom voted for the law – filed a lawsuit, claiming the changes to mail-in voting were unconstitutional and should have been pursued by the through a constitutional amendment submitted to voters.

In a 3-2 decision, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court accepted that reasoning on Friday.

“If presented to the people, a constitutional amendment to end Article VII, Section 1 of the in-person voting requirement will likely pass,” Justice Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote for the majority on Friday. “But a Constitutional Amendment must be presented to the people and passed into our Basic Law before legislation permitting mail-in voting without excuse can be ‘placed on our law books’.”

The Commonwealth Court’s five-judge panel split along party lines, with the three Republican justices agreeing with the GOP petitioners and two dissenting Democrats.

Wanda Murren, director of communications for the Pennsylvania Department of State, told CNN in an emailed statement that the state is working on an appeal to the state Supreme Court and “does not agree with today’s decision”.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat who is running for governor this fall, criticized the decision, saying it was “based on twisted logic and flawed reasoning and was wrong on the law. “.

“This will be immediately appealed and therefore will have no immediate impact on the upcoming Pennsylvania election. The matter will now go to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and we are confident that Law 77 will ultimately be upheld. as constitutional,” Shapiro said in a statement.

The state Supreme Court, where Democrats have a majority, has supported the state’s expanded use of no-apology mail-in voting in previous rulings.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, more than 2.6 million people voted by mail or mail in the 2020 general election, out of a total of some 6.9 million ballots counted.

Republicans overwhelmingly supported the expansion of mail-in voting in 2019, but then began to attack the process after President Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in 2020. The Trump campaign tried to invalidate thousands of ballots. vote in Pennsylvania by filing several lawsuits, all of which have failed.

Trump hailed Friday’s decision, saying in a statement that “a great patriotic spirit is growing to a level that no one thought possible.”

State Senate Chairman Tempore Jake Corman, the GOP gubernatorial candidate this year who voted to expand mail-in voting in 2019, said the decision “should serve as a call to the action to open a serious conversation about the reforms needed to make voting both accessible and secure for all Pennsylvanians.

He said in a statement that he plans to introduce legislation that would include things like “voter identification, eliminating direct party voting, ending drop boxes, banning cash and a provision for independent third-party election audits”. parties.”

“My plan will expand access, increase integrity, prevent fraud and give Pennsylvanians an electoral system they can believe in,” he added.

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