In a 5-2 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week determined that a state statute permitting mail-in voting without the need for a reason or excuse does not constitute a violation of the state constitution, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, disappointing Republicans who argued the contrary position out of election integrity concerns.
At issue was a 2019 law that allowed voters in the Keystone State to utilize mail-in ballots under all circumstances, a measure that represented a dramatic shift from previous requirements that voters provide a valid rationale for casting a ballot in that manner.
The controversy centered largely around language in the Pennsylvania constitution describing voter eligibility, which states that a voter “shall have resided in the election district where he or she shall over to vote at least 60 days immediately preceding the election.”
While Republicans argued that the “offer to vote” phrasing requires in-person voting unless an individual’s situation meets the constitutional exception for absentee voting, and while the lower court agreed with that interpretation, said that a constitutional amendment would be required to achieve the statute’s desired ends, and struck down the aforementioned law earlier this year, the decision was appealed, paving the way for this week’s ruling.
In the Supreme Court’s Thursday opinion, the justices declared, “We conclude that the phrase ‘offer to vote’ does not establish in-person voting as an elector qualification or otherwise mandate in-person voting,” adding that “[t]he legislature has the authority to provide that votes can be cast by mail by all qualified electors. The only restraint on the legislature’s design of a method of voting is that it must maintain the secrecy of the vote,” as The Hill noted.
Republican Justice Kevin Brobson wrote in dissent, “Succinctly stated, the majority overrules 160 years of this Court’s precedent to save a law that is not yet three years old. It does so not to right some egregiously wrong decision or to vindicate a fundamental constitutional right.”
Justice Sally Updyke Mundy also wrote in opposition to the majority, saying, “I express no opinion as to whether no-excuse mail-in voting reflects wise public policy. That is not my function as a member of this state’s Judiciary. My function is to apply the text of the Pennsylvania Constitution, understood inlight of its history and judicial precedent. In so doing, I would hold that that venerable document must be amended before any such policy can validly be enacted.”
Unsurprisingly, Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf lauded the decision, saying in a statement, “Today’s court ruling definitively asserts that mail-in voting is a legal and constitutional method for Pennsylvania voters.”
“Voting is a fundamental right – a right that we should ensure is accessible for all voters. Mail-in voting is a safe, secure and legal option for Pennsylvania voters to exercise that right,” Wolf added, pledging to “continue to advocate for voting reforms that remove barriers and increase access to voting.” However, after the 2020 contest, the danger of widespread fraud that accompanies the governor’s vow remains a very real fear against which the electorate must remain vigilant.