A court just struck down Pennsylvanias mail voting law. Heres what you need to know. · Spotlight PA

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Updated March 1: The state supreme court has ruled that the law will remain in effect for now , pending further action by the judges.

Harrisburg: Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting law, known as Law 77, was ruled unconstitutional Friday by a state court after a challenge by Republicans, but will remain in place for now as the Wolf administration pursues an appeal to the state. supreme court.

Here’s what you need to know about the decision and how it might affect you:

why did the court strike down the mail-in voting law?

Three of five commonwealth court judges, all Republicans, decided that voting without excuses would require an amendment to the state constitution, one that would explicitly allow any voter to request a mail-in ballot regardless of reason.

Currently, the constitution states that voters must cast their ballot at a polling place within their district. absentee ballots may be cast by voters who are unable to appear in person due to “business or occupation,” who are unable to go to their polling place due to “illness, disability, or observance of a religious holiday,” or who cannot vote due to Election Day duties, such as a poll worker.

Since it has been necessary in the past to amend the constitution to specifically state who can vote absentee, the three justices (mary hannah leavitt, patricia mccollough, and christine fizzano cannon) found that no-excuse mail-in voting would also require such an amendment .

what did the dissenting judges say?

two Democrat-elected commonwealth court justices, michael wojcik and ellen ceisler, wrote in their dissent that the majority is wrongly lumping no-excuse mail-in voting with language in the constitution that allows absentee voting .

The two pointed to another section of the constitution that empowers the legislature to “provide other means by which a voter may cast his or her vote,” such as Law 77.

that section states: “all elections of the citizens shall be held by ballot or by any other method prescribed by law.” (emphasis added by the judges.)

“therefore, the general assembly is constitutionally empowered to enact law 77 to allow qualified and registered voters present in their municipality of residence on election day to vote by mail without excuse,” wojcik wrote in the opinion .

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continued: “I disagree with the majority’s flawed premise that no-excuse mail-in voting is simply a subspecies of absentee voting.”

what does this mean for the primary in May?

That remains to be seen.

The wolf administration has already appealed the decision to the state supreme court. as that process unfolds, the mail-in voting law remains in place.

If the court accepts the case, which is widely expected, legal experts and others believe it will decide the matter quickly, given the proximity of the May primary and the need for county elections offices to prepare for any possible change in the law. .

who brought the challenge?

doug mclinko, a bradford county commissioner, filed a lawsuit in july challenging bill 77. a similar lawsuit was filed the following month by a group of republican state lawmakers, including 11 who voted to approve mail-in voting when the law was first step:

  • mike jones (r., york)

    barry j. jozwiak (r., berks)

    kathy rapp (right, warren)

    david maloney (r., berks)

    barb gleim (right, cumberland)

    bob brooks (right, westmoreland)

    aaron bernstine (right, beaver)

    dawn keefer (r., york)

    dan moul (r., adams)

    Frank Ryan (R., Lebanon)

    donald “bud” cook (r., fayette)

    three others also participated in the challenge who voted against the law or were not in office when it was passed:

    • david h. zimmerman (r., lancaster), who voted no on bill 77

      tim twardzik (r., schuylkill), who was not in office when bill 77 was passed

      timothy r. bonner (r., mercer), who was not in office when law 77 was passed

      why do legislators question a law they passed?

      The mail-in voting law was the result of months of negotiation between wolf and the Republican-led legislature, but at the time, the question of constitutionality was not front and center.

      More importantly, the law not only allowed for no-excuses voting, it also introduced other changes, including bringing voter registration deadlines forward to elections and helping counties buy new voting machines. As part of the negotiations, Republican legislative leaders were able to get Lobo to grant the elimination of the party’s direct ticket voting option, a move denounced by Democrats during floor debates.

      At the time, then-Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (right, center) called the law “the most significant modernization of our election code in decades.”

      It wasn’t until 2020 that the issue of constitutionality gained traction, after then-President Donald Trump and his allies came forward with claims, without any credible evidence, that the election was stolen due to widespread election-related fraud. mail-in ballots.

      >

      Since then, Republicans across the country have attacked the integrity of mail-in ballots and attempted to introduce other laws that would restrict access to ballots. Voting rights advocates have said such efforts are not based on fraud but on a concerted effort to suppress the vote, one that would disproportionately affect communities of color.

      corman, who is now the president of the senate and running for governor, has done a political and political 180 in just two years. In a statement Friday, he praised the Commonwealth court’s decision and said he had “no confidence” in mail-in ballots.

      what is the difference between a law and a constitutional amendment?

      Unlike traditional bills, amending the state constitution is a time-consuming process.

      First, the legislature must pass a proposed amendment in two consecutive sessions (each legislative session lasts two years). once that happens, voters can decide the issue via a ballot question.

      what is the probability that an amendment will pass?

      In the majority decision, Commonwealth court justices noted that no-excuses mail-in voting has so far been popular. they postulated that, if a constitutional amendment were presented to the voters, “it is likely to be adopted.”

      but for a proposed amendment to begin moving forward in the legislature, it needs the support of Republican leadership. Corman made no mention of such a proposal in his Friday statement.

      He would also have to have the support of a majority of lawmakers in both the House and Senate, a hurdle that may be out of reach given the radically different views of many Republicans on mail-in voting now in comparison with 2019.

      what do the legal experts say?

      bruce ledewitz, a university professor at duquesne and a state constitutional expert, said if the case is taken up by the high court, “it will be a close legal issue.”

      Although voting rights advocates criticized the commonwealth court’s decision on Friday, ledewitz said both sides have made valid legal arguments, and he doesn’t expect the high court, if it accepts the case, to rule on the rules. match lines.

      Still, he believes the judges will ultimately overturn the lower court’s decision and uphold Law 77.

      “Broadly speaking, the Supreme Court voted in favor of expanding access,” Ledewitz said. “If I had to bet, which I don’t, I’d bet they reverse. but…it’s going to be a closed deal.”

      raff donelson, penn state dickinson associate professor of law, said he sees room to appeal the commonwealth court’s ruling.

      donelson, an expert on federal constitutional issues, said the court’s decision appears to be based on a narrow reading of a particular section of the state constitution regarding absentee ballots and who can cast one. but that section, he said, does not suggest that there is a limit on who can vote that way. and another section of the constitution appears to give the legislature broad authority to decide how voters can cast ballots.

      When asked if he finds it troubling that some of the same legislators who voted in favor of Law 77 a little over two years ago are now challenging it as unconstitutional, he said, “I’d like to think that some of the people who present the challenge are acting in good faith, and they think they now have information they didn’t have before.”

      But, he noted, state legislatures across the country have staff reviewing bills that are voted on for legality, and that’s likely what happened with Bill 77.

      ”obviously, since this went ahead, someone … he agreed that the legislature has broad authority to make rules about how people vote, with certain restrictions. and that’s what they did.”

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