mail-in ballot generic

A candidate for a judgeship in Lehigh County is asking for a stay of a court ruling ordering that mail-in ballots filled out without dates be counted in a 2021 race.

A federal appeals court ruling from Friday said that undated Lehigh County ballots, which arrived on time, should be counted in the 2021 general election. Fewer than 75 votes separate Republican David Ritter and Democrat Zachary Cohen for the final spot for Court of Common Pleas judge. 257 mail-in ballots without dates were in dispute in that election.

Ritter filed a motion Monday asking for a stay of Friday's ruling, arguing that Ritter needed time to file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court. Ritter argues that if the stay is not granted, irreparable injury will occur because his opponent could wrongly assume office, and state residents "will be subject to the power of an official who was seated in error."

A court has not issued a response to Ritter's motion.

An attorney for Ritter had argued in federal court that the 257 mail-in ballots in November's 2021 general election should not be counted because a hand-written date was not on the ballot envelope.

The attorney said it's against Pennsylvania law and the issue was already upheld by the state Supreme Court in March.

“The issue here is different from the issue in state court. The issue here is whether under federal law a voter can be disenfranchised for a minor paperwork error,” said ACLU attorney Ari Savitzky in a court hearing last week.

Savitzky represents five bipartisan voters who appealed to the federal court to have the 257 votes counted.

In court, Savitsky argued this isn't a case of fraud and the voter's eligibility or status isn't in question and as long as the ballots are received by the board of elections by 8 p.m. on election day the written date on the envelope is irrelevant.

“This case is important because every vote matters and every valid vote should be counted,” Savitzky had said.

A formal written opinion still has not been issued on Friday's federal appeals court decision. It is possible that decision could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The Court of Common Pleas seat remains vacant until the issue is determined.

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