Supreme Court declines to halt undated ballot counting in Pennsylvania election

The Supreme Court declined Thursday to halt a lower court’s ruling that permitted the counting of undated mail-in ballots in a Pennsylvania race.

A Republican candidate for a county judgeship had brought his election battle to the Supreme Court in a fight that could have affected statewide elections and the fate of undated mail-in ballots.

David Ritter ran for a seat on the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas. Mr. Ritter had asked the high court, in a petition submitted to Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. last month, to block a lower court’s decision allowing officials to count undated mail-in ballots in his race, in which he holds a slim lead.

But the high court declined to do so Thursday. 

Justices Alito, Neil M. Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas would have granted the request.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had set aside Pennsylvania’s law requiring mail-in ballots to be dated and signed, allowing potentially 257 undated ballots to be counted in Mr. Ritter’s race.

Justice Alito, writing in a dissent from the court’s move, said it’d be better for the court to address the issue sooner rather than later.

“The Third Circuit’s interpretation broke new ground, and at this juncture, it appears to me that that interpretation is very likely wrong. If left undisturbed, it could well affect the outcome of the fall elections, and it would be far better for us to address that interpretation before, rather than after, it has that effect,” he wrote. 

At issue in the legal fight has been the date — not the signature — on mail-in ballots. Undated ballots that arrived on time had been counted during the 2020 election due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting mail uncertainties.

The state’s highest court had permitted the undated ballots to be counted in 2020 when mail-in balloting surged due to the pandemic, but the justices signaled the court would not allow the change in future elections.

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