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Pennsylvania court declares the state’s no apology absent voting law unconstitutional

The law, known as Law 77, was passed in late 2019 with strong bipartisan support. But in September, more than a dozen Republicans in the state House - most of whom voted for the law - sued, arguing that the changes in the absentee ballot were unconstitutional and should have been pursued through a constitutional amendment put before voters.

By a 3-2 ruling, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court agreed to this reasoning Friday.

"If it is presented to the people, a constitutional amendment to end Article VII, the Section 1 requirement for a personal vote is likely to be passed," Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote to the majority Friday. "But a constitutional amendment must be presented to the people and enacted into our Basic Law before legislation that allows no apology by postal vote can be 'placed in our bylaws.'

The Commonwealth Court panel of five judges split along party lines, with the three Republican judges agreeing with the GOP petitioners and two Democrats disagreeing.

Wanda Murren, communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of State, told CNN in an email statement that the state is working on an appeal to the state Supreme Court and "disagrees with today's decision."

She also said in a follow-up statement that the decision would have "no immediate effect" on the state's primary election in May, urging voters to request a postal vote.

The department "informs all county election boards that they must continue with all primary election preparations as they were before today's Commonwealth Court ruling. There should be no change in their procedures," Murren said.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat running for governor this fall, criticized the decision, saying it was "based on distorted logic and erroneous reasoning and is wrong on the law."

"It will be appealed immediately and will therefore have no immediate impact on Pennsylvania's upcoming elections. The issue will now go to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and we are confident that Act 77 will ultimately be ratified as constitutional," Shapiro said in a announcement.

The state Supreme Court, where Democrats have a majority, has supported the state's expanded use of no apology absent voting in previous decisions.

More than 2.6 million people cast ballots or absentee ballots in the 2020 general election, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State, out of a total of about 6.9 million ballots counted.
Republicans overwhelmingly supported the extension of postal voting in 2019, but then began attacking the process following President Donald Trump's loss to Joe Biden in 2020. The Trump campaign sought to invalidate thousands of ballots in Pennsylvania by filing several lawsuits, all of which failed.

Trump praised Friday's decision, saying in a statement that "a great patriotic spirit is developing at a level that no one thought was possible."

State Senate President Tempore Jake Corman, a GOP gubernatorial candidate this year who voted for the expansion of 2019 mail-in polls, said the ruling "should serve as a call for action to open up a serious conversation about the reforms. "necessary to make the vote both accessible and secure for all Pennsylvania residents."

He said in a statement that he plans to introduce legislation that will include components such as "voter ID, elimination of equal party votes, an end to drop-boxes, a ban on outside money and a provision for independent review of third-party elections. parties. "

"My plan will expand access, increase integrity and prevent fraud, and give Pennsylvania residents an electoral system they can believe in," he added.

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