mail in ballots
© Upupa4me / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0As of March 27, 2024, Pennsylvania will be required to reject ballots not postmarked
Four years after bureaucrats tried to usurp the Pennsylvania legislature's authority by counting ballots that violated state law, a panel of Democrat-appointed judges upheld a state law that says such ballots are invalid.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on Wednesday that mail-in ballots that arrive in envelopes with a missing or incorrect date are not valid, overturning a lower court's decision.

"This is a crucial victory for election integrity and voter confidence in the Keystone State and nationwide," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Whatley said in a statement. "Pennsylvanians deserve to feel confident in the security of their mail ballots, and this 3rd Circuit ruling roundly rejects unlawful left-wing attempts to count undated or incorrectly dated mail ballots."

Pennsylvania adopted universal mail-in balloting in 2019, with the law requiring voters to "fill out, date and sign the declaration printed on [the] envelope" before returning their ballot.

During the 2020 presidential election and the 2022 midterms, "thousands" of voters' mail-in ballots "did not comply with the date requirement," either due to incorrect dates or missing dates entirely, according to the ruling. Approximately 10,000 such ballots were rejected during the 2022 midterms.

A panel of judges on the 3rd Circuit had previously ruled the date requirement violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act Materiality Provision, which says voters cannot be denied their right to vote because of a paperwork issue if it is "not material in determining whether such individual is qualified" to vote. But the U.S. Supreme Court vacated that decision as moot in its 2022 decision in Ritter v. Migliori.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court then ruled ballots that don't comply with the date requirement are invalid under state law and should not be counted — but the court was split on whether tossing those ballots violated the Materiality Provision, so it directed county election boards to "segregate and preserve" those ballots even though they were not to be counted.

A year later, in response to a lawsuit brought by leftist groups, Erie-based U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter ruled in November that ballots with missing or incorrect dates should still be counted so long as they are received by Election Day. The RNC and its affiliates appealed the ruling.

In its decision on Wednesday, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the state law requiring ballots to be properly dated does not violate the federal Materiality Provision, overturning the district judge's decision. The panel acknowledged their knee-jerk reaction would be to find a "failure to date a return envelope should not cause his ballot to be disqualified."

"But our role restricts to interpreting a statute, and there we hold that the Materiality Provision only applies when the State is determining who may vote," wrote Judge Thomas Ambra, a Clinton appointee. "In other words, its role stops at the door of the voting place."

"The provision does not apply to rules, like the date requirement, that govern how a qualified voter must cast his ballot for it to be counted," the court said, but rather only applies to laws determining who can cast a ballot.

"Pennsylvania's date requirement, regardless what we may think of it, does not cross over to a determination of who is qualified to vote," the majority concluded.