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Pennsylvania court rejects state's mail voting law

The state appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, and the law will remain in effect for now.
Mail-in ballots before being sorted at the Chester County Voter Services office in West Chester, Pa., on Oct. 23, 2020.Matt Slocum / AP

A Pennsylvania court struck down the state’s mail voting law Friday morning, saying voters must amend the state constitution before such legislation is legal.

The state immediately appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, meaning the law will remain in effect during the appeal process. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is composed of five Democrats and two Republicans.

In her ruling earlier Friday, Commonwealth Court Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt, a Republican, wrote: “No-excuse mail-in voting makes the exercise of the franchise more convenient and has been used four times in the history of Pennsylvania. If presented to the people, a constitutional amendment to end the Article VII, Section 1 requirement of in-person voting is likely to be adopted. But a constitutional amendment must be presented to the people and adopted into our fundamental law before legislation authorizing no-excuse mail-in voting can 'be placed upon our statute books'.”

A spokesperson for the Secretary of State's office, Wanda Murren, said mail voting would continue until the state Supreme Court rules on the appeal. Murren said the department's message for Pennsylvania voters was "go ahead and request your mail-in ballot for the May primary election."

Pennsylvania expanded mail voting with a 2019 law that was heralded as a bipartisan compromise since it was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. It later became a target for Republican criticism when then-President Donald Trump falsely criticized mail voting as a source of widespread fraud.

In August 2021, 14 Republican members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives filed suit against the state’s mail voting law alleging it unconstitutional and, in September, Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko amended an earlier filing from July seeking similar outcome; the two lawsuits were consolidated. The Democratic National Committee and the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, as well as several GOP county committees, intervened to defend the law with the state.

In 2020, when congregating at the polls posed a health risk due to the pandemic, mail voting surged in popularity; according to NBC News, more than 2.6 million Pennsylvania voters cast a mail or early in-person ballot.

Fueled by Trump's false claims of a stolen election, many Republicans have sought to restrict or stop mail voting in states across the country. Following Friday's ruling, the former president heralded the news.

"Here is the key question: If widespread mail-in balloting is unconstitutional in Pennsylvania now, how could mail-in balloting have been constitutional in the RIGGED 2020 Presidential Election then?" he said in a statement. "We all know the answer—it wasn’t!"

The Democratic National Committee said it was confident the ruling would be overturned.

“We are confident in our case and we will leave no stone unturned in our ongoing efforts to protect the freedom to vote," said DNC Chair Jaime Harrison in a statement.