mail-in ballot generic

EASTON, Pa. - A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed by the ACLU that had aimed to require Lehigh County to count 257 mail-in ballots from the 2021 general election that were disqualified because they were missing the handwritten date on the outer envelope.

The ACLU had filed the lawsuit on behalf of five county residents who had not provided the handwritten date on the outer envelope. The five voters who filed suit had also asked the court to temporarily halt the county from certifying the results while the case is heard.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said it will announce soon if the voters intend to appeal the ruling.

The Lehigh County Office of Voter Registration initially intended to count the disqualified ballots, but a subsequent ruling in Commonwealth Court deemed them ineligible under state law.

In the complaint filed in federal court, the ACLU had argued that disqualifying the undated ballots violated both the federal Civil Rights Act and the Constitution. The Civil Rights Act prohibits disqualifying a person’s vote if the reason for disqualification is “not material in determining whether such individual is qualified under State law to vote(.)”

The lawsuit said the county’s failure to notify the voters of the errors violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The federal judge ruled Wednesday that the handwritten date requirement does not pose an undue burden on the plaintiffs’ right to vote under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The ballots involve the third and final spot for the Court of Common Pleas in Lehigh County. As it stands, only 74 votes divide Republican candidate, David Ritter, who is in the lead, and Democratic candidate Zachary Cohen.

“Counting every vote needs to be a fundamental principle for everyone who cares about democracy, regardless of party or who they vote for,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania in response to the federal judge's ruling.

“We need less barriers to voting, not more. Unfortunately, this ruling leaves a ridiculous barrier in place, one that does not serve any useful purpose.”

“If ballots with undated return envelopes are disqualified in a high-turnout, statewide election, tens of thousands of people could be disenfranchised,” Walczak said.

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