Voting rights advocates in Pennsylvania celebrated a “huge victory” on Friday after the state’s Supreme Court ruled that mail-in ballots cannot be rejected solely because a voter’s signature doesn’t appear to match the one on file.
“[We] hold that county boards of elections are prohibited from rejecting absentee or mail-in ballots based on signature comparison conducted by county election officials or employees, or as the result of third-party challenges based on signature analysis and comparisons,” the court ruled.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, called the decision ― unanimously reached by two Republican justices and five Democratic justices ― a “win for voters.”
But the campaign of President Donald Trump — who is lagging behind Democratic rival Joe Biden in state polls — sharply criticized the ruling.
“What if there’s no signature at all? Or someone just draws a line? Sounds pretty stupid,” Gary Coby, digital director for Trump’s 2020 campaign, wrote on Twitter.
Pennsylvania’s new guidelines for mail-in ballots, which were issued by the state’s top election official Kathy Boockvar earlier this year, state clearly that a signature is required on all mail-in ballots ― but that local election officials can’t toss out a ballot because of perceived signature discrepancies alone.
Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s secretary of the commonwealth, issued the guidelines after facing pressure from voting rights advocates to relax the state’s signature verification rules.
The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, the Campaign Legal Center and other groups in August sued several Pennsylvania election officials including Boockvar for throwing out mail-in ballots because of signature issues and not informing voters that their ballots had been deemed invalid. More than 26,500 mail-in ballots were rejected during the state’s primary election in June ― many of them because of signature issues, the suit alleged.
“Pennsylvania took the important step of making vote by mail available to all Pennsylvanians. However, the current process does not allow voters to receive notice, or cure, any problems with their ballots,” Campaign Legal Center attorney Danielle Lang said in August. “So we could see a high number of eligible voters have their vote-by-mail ballots discarded for errors that could be easily fixed by the voter.”
Boockvar’s subsequent decision to change the state’s signature verification rules came under fire, however, by Trump’s campaign and other Republicans. This prompted her to appeal to the state’s top court to issue a declaratory ruling on the validity of her department’s ballot guidelines.
On Friday, Boockvar hailed the court’s decision as a “huge victory for free and fair elections.”
Pennsylvania has other safeguards in place to combat voter fraud, Shapiro said in a statement following the court’s decision.
“Voters who use a mail-in ballot have their identity verified in the initial application, often using a drivers’ license number. Pennsylvania’s voter identification system is safe and secure,” he said. “We are protecting every eligible vote and ensuring each is counted. Make your plan to vote, and we will keep doing our work to make sure your voice is heard.”
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