A court ruling that undated mail-in ballots should not be counted in a local judiciary election was upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Thursday, in a decision that may change the result of the race.
The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from Lehigh County judge candidate Zachary Cohen, a Democrat, in a case where 257 mail-in ballots are disputed. A lower court ruled that these undated ballots should be discarded, overturning a previous ruling by Lehigh County Judge Edward Reibman, who said they should be counted because discarding them would contradict a 2020 state supreme court decision on uncounted ballots, the Morning Call reports.
Cohen's lawyer petitioned the state supreme court to hear the case and clarify its 2020 decision, which held that undated mail-in ballots should be counted because the coronavirus pandemic was akin to a natural disaster, which permits state courts to alter voting procedures if it happens on Election Day. The question is whether that ruling only applied to the 2020 election or whether undated mail-in ballots should always be counted. But the high court declined to hear Cohen's appeal.
The decision is a blow to the Democratic candidate, who is just 74 votes behind his Republican rival David Ritter in a race for one of three seats on Lehigh County’s Common Pleas Court. The uncounted 257 mail-in ballots could have altered the outcome of the race in Cohen's favor.
“We’re obviously disappointed in the court’s ruling, not only because of its impact on Zac, but especially for all those voters who deserve to be heard in this election,” said Adam Bonin, Cohen's attorney.
He added that his client is still considering other legal options in the case.
Lehigh County has not certified the results of the 2021 judicial election while a legal dispute over its outcome is ongoing.
Ritter's attorney, Robert Daday, welcomed the ruling and said he hopes it will become the "law of the land."
“We’re very happy with the decision by the supreme court; we believe it to be the correct decision,” Daday said.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will soon likely hear an appeal from another case contesting the state's mail voting law.
The Commonwealth Court on Friday struck down the state's mail voting law in a decision that said the state Constitution requires voters to cast ballots in person unless they meet certain requirements, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's administration is likely to appeal the decision to the state supreme court, which under Pennsylvania law would trigger an automatic stay of the decision, leaving the 2019 law in place.
“No-excuse mail-in voting makes the exercise of the franchise more convenient and has been used four times in the history of Pennsylvania,” the court wrote in its opinion, according to the Inquirer. “Approximately 1.38 million voters have expressed their interest in voting by mail permanently. If presented to the people, a constitutional amendment… is likely to be adopted. But a constitutional amendment must be presented to the people."
The Commonwealth Court has a Republican majority that was widely expected to strike down the law, which expands no-excuse mail-in voting. The law became highly controversial after the 2020 presidential election, with Republicans alleging that loose restrictions on mail-in voting contributed to former President Donald Trump's loss.
A lawsuit brought by Republicans to have millions of mail-in ballots rejected was defeated.