A federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled Monday that mail-in ballots received on time but not dated should be counted, arguing that a state law rejecting such votes violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The ruling marks an early victory for voting rights groups in a case with national implications ahead of the 2024 election, as Republicans and conservative advocacy groups continue to push for stricter voting laws .
“We welcome the court’s decision today,” said Susan Gobreski, vice president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, which is a plaintiff in the case. She added: “Pennsylvania citizens must have full and unhindered access to the polls, without unnecessary obstacles or interference. »
The decision will likely be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, where the court’s most conservative members have already upheld the state law that requires voters to put the date on the return envelope when they send in their ballot.
The Republican National Committee, a defendant in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In a 77-page opinion, Judge Susan Paradise Baxter of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania said the law violated the Civil Rights Act’s election protections because the requirement that voters date their ballot paper was not “important to the act of voting.”
“The provision protects a citizen’s right to vote by prohibiting a state actor from disqualifying a voter due to failure to provide or error in providing unnecessary information on a ballot application or ballot.” , Judge Baxter wrote in her opinion, adding that “the individual plaintiffs’ ballots should be counted because their statutory rights were violated.
Judge Baxter was first appointed to her position by President Barack Obama and was ultimately nominated by President Donald J. Trump.
A long legal battle rages over the validity of undated mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered state officials a week before the 2022 election to refrain from counting undated ballots, after the Republican National Committee and other party-aligned groups filed a lawsuit to stop those votes from being counted.
The NAACP and several other voting rights groups later sued to reverse the order, arguing that failing to count votes due to a missing or incorrect date would potentially disenfranchise thousands of votes. voters of the right to vote.