HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (LifeSiteNews) – A state court stuck down Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting law last week, declaring it unconstitutional and vindicating Republicans’ concerns about the legality of mail-in voting in the 2020 Pennsylvania election.
A five-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court ruled Friday that no-excuses absentee voting, which Pennsylvania adopted in a 2019 law titled Act 77, would require a constitutional amendment.
Writing for the majority, Judge Mary Leavitt said that “a constitutional amendment must be presented to the people and adopted into our fundamental law before legislation authorizing no-excuse mail-in voting can ‘be placed upon our statute books.’”
The Pennsylvania Constitution requires voters to cast ballots at polling places except in cases of illness, disability, observance of religious holidays, or “occupation or business.” The constitution exempts election workers as well.
Leavitt cited “binding precedent of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,” noting rulings in 1839 and 1923 that overturned laws attempting to expand absentee voting. Any legislation “that relaxes the in-person voting requirement must be preceded by an amendment to the Constitution,” she wrote.
The panel’s two other Republicans sided with Leavitt. Two Democrats on the panel dissented.
Act 77, passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in 2019 and signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, allowed voters to request a mail ballot for any reason and submit ballots up to 50 days before an election. The law additionally lengthened submission deadlines, expanded voter registration, and set aside $90 million in state funding for new voting machines.
The act will remain in place for now, as the Wolf administration appealed Friday’s ruling to the majority-Democrat Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which is expected to hand down a decision quickly. Pennsylvania holds primary elections in May.
A group of 14 Republican Pennsylvania House lawmakers, including 11 who voted in favor of Act 77, sued the Pennsylvania Department of State in August to overturn the law. The case was consolidated with another lawsuit brought by a Republican county commissioner in Bradford County.
The Democratic National Committee, Pennsylvania Democratic Party, and three Republican county committees defended the law.
Pennsylvania’s unconstitutional election
Following the 2020 president election, then-President Donald Trump and other Republicans raised concerns that Act 77 violated the Pennsylvania Constitution and opened the door to voter fraud.
Most of Joe Biden’s 2020 votes in the Keystone State came from mail-in ballots. Out of nearly 6.9 million Pennsylvanians who voted in the 2020 election, more than 2.5 million did so by mail – around 80 percent of them Democrats.
Trump celebrated the Pennsylvania ruling Friday. “All American Patriots are thanking the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania for having the courage to do the right thing!” he wrote in a statement.
“Here is the key question: If widespread mail-in balloting is unconstitutional in Pennsylvania now, how could mail-in balloting have been constitutional in the RIGGED 2020 Presidential Election then?” Trump added. “We all know the answer—it wasn’t!”
Congressional Republicans who declined to certify the 2020 election also pointed to Act 77, like Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, whose objection centered largely around concerns about the Pennsylvania law.
Violent Antifa activists harassed Hawley’s family at his D.C. home and publisher Simon & Schuster dropped the senator’s book deal after his vote against election certification.
“Turns out the Pennsylvania mail-in balloting law from 2020 was unconstitutional, according to a statewide court today – as I said when I objected to certifying PA’s electoral votes,” Hawley tweeted Friday.
Republican candidates for the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race also blasted Act 77. “Now we know that not only was Act 77 a terrible law, it was also unconstitutional and shouldn’t have been passed in the first place,” former Rep. Lou Barletta said.
“If Act 77 remains on the books after court appeals are exhausted, I will repeal it as governor, because I believe mail-in voting should be preserved only for those who cannot vote on Election Day. In addition, we should require sound signature matching and identification for every voter and clear the rolls of people who have died or moved out of state.”
The Commonwealth Court previously ruled in November 2020 that former Pennsylvania election chief Kathryn Boockvar violated state law with last-minute guidance that gave counties an extra week to verify voter ID. Boockvar, a Democrat, also faced criticism for instructing election officials to inspect ballots before Election Day and contact voters to fix flaws, which Republican counties said was illegal.
The 2020 election in Pennsylvania was plagued by a host of other issues, like the unexplained loss of thousands of mail ballots and widespread voting machine breakdowns and delays. Millions of dollars of private election process funding by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg exacerbated disparities between counties’ election resources, disproportionately benefiting Democratic-leaning areas, according to election watchdogs.
Gov. Wolf, whose second and final term ends January 2023, vetoed Republican-backed measures last year to outlaw private election process funding and tighten voting safeguards.