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Wolf officials argue to keep mail-in balloting in Pennsylvania during appeal

Lucy Perkins
90.5 WESA

The Wolf administration on Thursday asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to keep the state’s mail-in voting law in place while the justices consider a lower-court ruling throwing it out.

If the Commonwealth Court's ruling stands, the 2-year-old voting law would no longer be in effect as of March 15 — a week after the Supreme Court is expected to hear oral argument in the case.

Lawyers for the Department of State and Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman argued in a filing that eliminating mail-in voting ahead of the spring primary season “would, if anything, only exacerbate voter confusion and the danger of disenfranchisement.”

Pennsylvania widely expanded mail-in voting in 2019 as part of a deal in which Republican legislative leaders successfully negotiated an end to straight-ticket voting in return.

Mail-in voting proved very popular during the pandemic, particularly with Democrats, as nearly 5 million votes were cast by mail over 2020-21. As of August, nearly 1.4 million Pennsylvania voters were signed up for permanent mail-in voting notification.

Three Republican judges on a Commonwealth Court panel of five sided with Republican challengers and ruled in Januarythat no-excuse mail-in voting is prohibited under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The two Democratic judges on the panel dissented, writing that the constitution permits no-excuse under a provision that says elections “shall be by ballot or by such other method as may be prescribed by law.”

Before the 2019 law was enacted — with votes for it from some of the GOP lawmakers now challenging it — absentee voters had to quality based on a list of allowable excuses or have status as a military or overseas voter. The constitution does not explicitly say the Legislature cannot extend absentee voting to others.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday selected a congressional district map and said the May 17 primary would remain in place for those races and for statewide contests for governor, lieutenant governor and a U.S. Senate seat.

New maps for the General Assembly were produced earlier this month by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, but they are in limbo during a 30-day appeal period.