PITTSBURGH — A federal court in western Pennsylvania ruled today that voters who submit mail ballots in time to be counted in an election — but who mistakenly forget to handwrite a date on the return envelope or write the wrong date — must have their ballots counted. Disqualifying those ballots is a violation of the federal Civil Rights Act, the court found.
The ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed in November 2022 by six voting rights advocacy organizations, later joined by five individual voters. The organizations and voters are represented by legal counsel from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, ACLU National, and the law firm Hogan Lovells.
The lawsuit, NAACP v. Schmidt, was filed by the Pennsylvania State Conference of the NAACP, Black Political Empowerment Project, Common Cause Pennsylvania, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Make The Road Pennsylvania, and POWER Interfaith. The organizations and their counsel responded to the ruling by issuing the following statements:
Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania: “Every eligible person who casts a ballot should have their vote counted. The handwritten-date requirement is completely irrelevant and unnecessary because elections officials know whether the ballot was received on time. And the whole point of this provision in the Civil Rights Act was to stop states from disqualifying votes for frivolous reasons, like this date requirement. We’re grateful that the court understood that.”
Ari Savitzky, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project: “The right to vote is sacred. Throwing out valid votes because of a minor paperwork error is undemocratic and illegal. This ruling ensures that Pennsylvanians who vote by mail, including senior citizens and voters with disabilities, will not face disenfranchisement because of a trivial mistake in handwriting an irrelevant date on the outer return envelope. Federal law requires nothing less, as the court’s decision makes crystal clear.”
Philip Hensley-Robin, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania: “This is a tremendous victory for mail-in voters in Pennsylvania. We are relieved that minor clerical errors will no longer prevent Pennsylvanians from having their votes counted. We look forward to seeing the impact that this ruling will have on future elections, particularly for communities of color and elderly Pennsylvanians.”
Susan Gobreski, vice president of policy at the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania: “We applaud today’s court decision in NAACP v. Schmidt. Pennsylvania citizens must have complete and unfettered access to the ballot box, free from unnecessary obstacles or interference. Today’s decision is a victory for voters and the accessibility of our elections.”
Diana Robinson, civic engagement director for Make the Road Pennsylvania: “Today the court affirmed what is already common sense: A minor, meaningless technicality shouldn’t disenfranchise eligible voters. As long as your ballot is received on time, the date written on the paper is irrelevant and your vote counts.”
Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director at POWER Interfaith: “Our faith calls us to advocate for equitable access to the ballot box, striving to eradicate any injustice that undermines the sacred principle of democratic representation. We cannot allow technicalities to strip away the voices of countless voters who participated in the democratic process, particularly those of us who have historically faced barriers in accessing the ballot box. Count every vote and ensure that eligible ballots are not disqualified over minor paperwork errors.”