Issued by the state supreme court last week, three simultaneous rulings—including Pa. Democratic Party v. Boockvar—have provided Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and down-ballot Democrats, with a potential boost in the upcoming election.
For decades, absentee voting has been a part of the electoral process. Mail-in ballots, though, have never been accepted or counted after Election Day, in accordance with state law. But this year, Democrats across the country are advocating for changes that experts believe could reshape the electoral map.
In Pennsylvania, the state supreme court’s decisions allow for an extended deadline to count mail-in ballots three days after Election Day; end the requirement for matching signatures on ballots; permit the use of drop boxes outside of approved voting facilities; and remove the Green Party presidential candidate from the state ballot.
Gov. Tom Wolf praised the court’s ruling, noting in a statement, “This is a victory that will help ensure that every eligible voter will more easily be able to cast their ballot and have it counted fairly.”
Republican lawmakers, however, contend the court has acted outside its authority. Election reforms were underway in the General Assembly, but they were pre-empted by the court, an elected judicial branch with a 5-2 Democratic majority.
U.S. Senator Pat Toomey concurred that the court had ignored existing state election law. “Once again, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided that laws have no meaning,” said Toomey in a statement. “The current state election statute, which was signed by Governor Wolf less than a year ago, is clear that mail-in ballots must be received by 8:00 PM on Election Day.”
In an interview with Dom Giordano on WPHT radio in Philadelphia, Pa. GOP House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff said he and his colleagues will “follow every legal avenue that we can to pursue this.”
In the applications for a stay, filed on Tuesday night, the GOP focused primarily on the court’s decision to allow any ballot, received within three days after Election Day, to be counted—even if it does not have a postmark indicating it was mailed by the deadline. They cited the 2020 case, Republican National Committee v. Democratic National Committee, in which the U.S. Supreme Court stayed a Wisconsin court ruling that extended the absentee ballot deadline because this extension “fundamentally alters the nature of the election.” Republicans argue, moreover, that the U.S. Constitution gives power to state legislatures, not courts, to make election decisions.
According to a new FiveThirtyEight forecast, Pennsylvania is the most likely “tipping-point state” in the 2020 election. Many analysts have long predicted the Keystone State could determine the outcome this November.
The Pa. GOP’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court will come as the court and the nation have just begun the contentious process of replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who died last week.