The Pennsylvania state Supreme Court ruled Friday that ballots in the state cannot be rejected because of signature comparisons, backing up guidance issued by the state’s chief elections officer heading into Pennsylvania’s first presidential election with no-excuse mail voting.
The ruling is a defeat for President Donald Trump’s campaign and other Republicans, who had challenged the decision by Pennsylvania election officials, arguing that efforts to match signatures on ballots to signatures on voter rolls were necessary to prevent fraud.
“We conclude that the Election Code does not authorize or require county election boards to reject absentee or mail-in ballots during the canvassing process based on an analysis of a voter’s signature,” the state Supreme Court wrote in an opinion signed by six of the seven justices, including five Democrats and one Republican.
The seventh justice, another Republican, concurred with the ruling.
The court directs “the county boards of elections not to reject absentee or mail-in ballots for counting, computing, and tallying based on signature comparisons conducted by county election officials or employees, or as the result of third party challenges based on such comparisons.”
Already, just under 1.5 million Pennsylvanians have already submitted their ballots in 2020, according to the U.S. Elections Project. That’s a significant share of the vote in Pennsylvania, where about 6.2 million people voted in the 2016 general election.
Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar had issued guidance earlier this year saying local election officials cannot toss ballots because of signature comparisons alone.
“If the Voter’s Declaration on the return envelope is signed and the county board is satisfied that the declaration is sufficient, the mail-in or absentee ballot should be approved for canvassing unless challenged in accordance with the Pennsylvania Election Code,” Boockvar’s mid-September guidance read. “The Pennsylvania Election Code does not authorize the county board of elections to set aside returned absentee or mail-in ballots based solely on signature analysis by the county board of elections.”
The court concluded that there was no clause in the state’s election code that allowed ballots to be rejected based on signature comparisons, and if the state’s lawmakers wanted one, they would have included it.
“It is not our role under our tripartite system of governance to engage in judicial legislation and to rewrite a statute in order to supply terms which are not present therein, and we will not do so in this instance,” the court wrote.
Pennsylvania, like many states, is expected to see a big wave of ballots submitted via the mail this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The critical battleground state is expected to be slow at tallying votes, because it does not allow for election officials to start processing mail ballots until Election Day, meaning definitive results are not expected in the state on Nov. 3.
Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf held talks about extending those processing times, but it appears they have totally collapsed. The state legislature adjourned earlier this week, and is not expected back until after Election Day, with no deal with the governor.