Pennsylvania Voting Rules

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 21, 2020 — Pennsylvania’s Democratic controlled Supreme Court changed their state election procedures late last week in a series of rulings on a lawsuit that the Pennsylvania Secretary of State and PA Democratic Party previously filed.

Under the new process, receiving votes after the election is allowed if “no evidence exists” that the ballot was mailed after Election Day, Nov. 3. The deadline for ballot acceptance now moves from 8 pm on Election Day to 5 pm, Friday, Nov. 6. Pennsylvania becomes the 17th state to allow post-election reception for this 2020 election. The ruling increases the chances that we will not have a winner declared on election night.

Additionally, three other rulings will allow drop boxes to be used as ballot receptacles in the various counties, affirmed that poll watchers can only serve in their own county of residence, and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins’ name was removed from the ballot. The court did not grant the lawsuit motion to allow ballot harvesting, which would permit third parties to deliver ballots to the authorities or ballot drop boxes.

The drop boxes will be placed in various locations around a county and voters can deposit their ballots without using the postal service to transfer their vote to the county election authorities. Hawkins’ name was removed from the ballot because the court said he “failed to comply with the Election Code’s strict mandate” and the attempts to fix the problem “did not suffice to cure that error,” but the specifics were not addressed.

With the large number of absentee ballots expected here and in other states, the trend toward allowing post-election reception, and the laws that some states, like Pennsylvania, have to control when the mail ballots can be counted, makes it less likely that we will see a definitive presidential campaign result on Nov. 3. The same will be true for certain US Senate and House races.

Of the 17 states, now including Pennsylvania, that are allowing post-election ballot reception, seven appear competitive. The others, Alaska, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia will likely declare a clear winner relatively early in the counting period.

Alaska, Kansas, Mississippi, Utah, and West Virginia should go to President Trump but for a total of only 26 electoral votes, while California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington, with a cumulative 105 electoral votes, will choose former vice president Joe Biden.

The competitive states, and where most of the post-election action will occur and directly relate to post-election ballot reception, are Nevada, Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Each of the states have different deadlines for when ballots must be received, which adds further complications to the national counting and reporting process.

The state with the shortest post-election deadline is Texas, with just a one-day grace period. North Carolina and Pennsylvania, the two most likely states where the presidential race could be decided in political overtime, both have a 5 pm reception deadline on Nov. 6.

The remaining states will go into the following week. Iowa will close at the end of business on Monday, Nov. 9, and Minnesota a day later on Nov. 10.

Interestingly, Nevada and Ohio have no stated deadline, which appears to mean that the ballot reception period is open-ended. This situation could lead to chaos if either of these states become a post-election focal point to determine a close election.

With over 200 lawsuits still pending around the country, and another Republican filed federal suit in Pennsylvania, we can likely expect further changes to the voting processes. It is clear that 2020 will be a different election that could well alter voting and participation patterns.

The increase in post-election reception states does mean the chances of a prolonged counting process are high, as we saw in many primary states earlier in the year. Adding weeks to this election cycle is not out of the question, and last week’s Pennsylvania rulings add to such a possibility.

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