The latest legal battle surrounding Pennsylvania’s elections raises new questions about the competence of state election officials. The serious error, which was discovered during the investigation, shows an alarming level of sloppiness.
The case that culminated in Friday’s ruling centered on whether counties should count undated ballots.
The State Department sued to compel three counties — Berks, Lancaster and Fayette — to include votes from about 800 undated ballots in their certified totals for the May primary election. I wrote about the lawsuit three weeks ago when I argued that the time had come give up the fight and just count them out.
Counties argued — I think that is fair — that undated ballots don’t count because the law says ballots “must” be dated.
Commonwealth Court Presiding Judge Rene Cohn Jubelirer rejected those arguments on Friday. It was the latest in a series of lawsuits, including from the U.S. Supreme Court, in favor of ballot counting.
Jubelirer felt the date was meaningless as ballots are time-stamped when they arrive at county polling stations to ensure they were delivered on time. And there was no dispute as to whether those approximately 800 ballots arrived on time.
She noted that while Art postal voting law requires ballots to be dated, the law does not mandate that they be rejected if they are not dated.
“Where certain provisions of the Election Code do not expressly provide consequences for failure to comply, courts have determined that absent something more, such as fear of fraud, the ballot should not be invalidated,” Jubelirer wrote.
She ordered pov add the votes from their undated ballots to their total and approve the results by Wednesday.
Could this be the last word? And can we stop looking at this debate through a political lens?
All of the counties fighting the undated ballot count are controlled by Republicans, the party that is trying to overturn a vote-by-mail law that GOP lawmakers previously overwhelmingly supported.
The lawsuit to force the counties to count those ballots was filed by the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat.
But Jubelirer is a Republican. Therefore, the GOP cannot argue that the decision is the work of a biased court, as it has done many times in the past in cases involving mail-in voting and other topics, including political fraud.
Although many people, myself included, do not agree with the ruling, it is time to accept it. Future legal challenges would be pointless.
What we don’t have to agree with is the continued failure of Pennsylvania’s election officials. Another setback was noted during this case, and it didn’t get the headlines it deserved.
During the arguments, it became known that the representative of the fourth district, Butler, undated ballots are also not included in his vote, the general results presented by the state.
So why didn’t the State Department also sue Butler County?
Because the state screwed up.
A spreadsheet that tracked whether states counted undated ballots incorrectly said Butler counted them.
State officials attributed it to “human error.” They did not try to correct the mistake.
The department had already confirmed the voting totals it had received from Butler and decided to allow those totals to stand.
Such mistakes should not be allowed. Several people need to check this kind of important information.
This is not the first such violation at the State Department.
Last year, the department failed to run newspaper ads for a referendum asking voters whether they wanted to amend the state Constitution to allow victims of child sex abuse to sue their abusers.
This forced a referendum, stipulated by Art The scandal of sexual violence in the Catholic Church, which will be reversed and the two-year approval process will start over. It was a major setback for the victims, who believed they would finally get justice for their suffering decades later.
Then-Secretary of State Kathy Bookwar, resigned himself to the damper.
In the case of Berks, Lancaster and Fayette counties, they questioned why they should be treated any differently than Butler and must certify vote totals they believe are inaccurate.
Jubelirer addressed this in her ruling on Friday.
She said the state decided not to decertify and/or recertify Butler’s votes after balancing the need for accurate results with the need to have finality in an already certified election.
The need for accurate results should always come first.
Nevertheless, Jubelirer accepted the state’s response.
“The need for uniform treatment of ballot papers across county councils is undoubtedly important,” she wrote.
But she said the state’s decision to allow Butler’s votes to stand “seems to recognize the department’s error and the need for finality in these already certified races, which is an important point.”
It is embarrassing that election officials continue to make mistakes. Voters deserve confidence that the system is 100% reliable.
Morning Call columnist Paul Mushik can be reached at 610-820-6582 or email@example.com