Supreme Court Blocks Pennsylvania Undated Ballot Count

The Supreme Court issued an order Tuesday that places a temporary block on an order from a federal appeals court requiring Pennsylvania officials to count undated mail-in ballots from a local election last year.

Justice Samuel Alito issued the order on behalf of the court that comes in an appeal in a case contesting last year’s election in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Under state law, voters there are required to sign and date their ballot. Some absentee and mail-in ballots were allegedly not properly signed and dated.

The lawsuit in federal court dealt primarily with application of a federal voting rights statute, 52 U.S.C. § 10101. That law acts to limit the type of information states can require to be provided on a ballot. The federal district court judge in the case ruled that the Pennsylvania state law is valid.

The federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district judge’s decision. A three-judge panel of the appeals court decided that the state law violates the federal statute and cannot be applied. That ruling provided that the undated ballots must therefore be counted.

Even though the case deals with a local election in a smaller county, the ruling has implications for many other races. Pennsylvania expects closely contested elections for governor and the U.S. Senate this year. The recent Republican primary for the Senate seat has not yet been decided, with Dr. Mehmet Oz and David McCormick separated by only a few hundred votes.

The order issued by Alito on behalf of the Supreme Court is likely to be referred to the full court for resolution. If the stay on the Third Circuit order is approved by a majority of the full court, it is likely that a petition will be filed asking the court to take the case up for full argument before the court later in the year.

The stay issued this week is only temporary, and it has not been disclosed when the full court will take up the resolution of the stay. Some justices, including Amy Coney Barrett in particular, have expressed a preference for avoiding handling matters on the “emergency docket” when it is possible to have the normal full briefing and argument schedule apply in a case.

Additional proceedings in the case are expected in the next few days.