(Reuters) - Pennsylvania’s top court ruled on Thursday that state officials dealing with a surge in mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic can accept them up to three days after the Nov. 3 election, as long as they were mailed by Election Day.
The ruling granted a request by the state Democratic Party that arose in part from concerns that postal delivery delays could disenfranchise voters in the contest between President Donald Trump, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. Pennsylvania is one of a handful of important swing states that both parties consider crucial to winning this year’s election.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that late ballots can be accepted if they are postmarked by Election Day, or if they lack a legible postmark, “unless a preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that it was mailed after Election Day.”
Like other states, Pennsylvania saw a deluge of mail-in ballots during its primary election in June, as voters stayed home due to the coronavirus, delaying official results in several close races by days or weeks.
The court also ruled that state law allows counties to collect absentee ballots using drop boxes and upheld a statute requiring poll watchers to reside in the county where they are stationed. In both cases, Republicans had sought to overturn those provisions.
“This is a victory that will help ensure that every eligible voter will more easily be able to cast their ballot and have it counted fairly,” the state’s Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, and attorney general, Josh Shapiro, said in a joint statement.
In a separate case, the court’s Democratic majority also rejected a bid from the Green Party to add its presidential and vice presidential candidates, Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker, to November’s ballot, ruling that the party’s paperwork was flawed under state law.
The court had previously ordered clerks to pause preparations for the election earlier in the week while it considered the Green Party case. Thursday’s decision frees officials to resume printing and mailing ballots.
The Pennsylvania court’s two Republican justices agreed that the paperwork was insufficient but questioned whether the Green party should have been given an opportunity to cure the problem.
The ruling was similar to one issued this week in Wisconsin, where the Green Party was also barred from joining the ballot due to paperwork problems.
In both cases, Democrats had worried that a third-party candidate could siphon support from Biden, while elections officials had warned that forcing them to reprint hundreds of thousands of ballots could create massive confusion and delay.
A spokesman for Hawkins’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a third case on Thursday, the court said state law prohibits third parties from collecting and returning ballots for voters, a practice sometimes derisively known as “ballot harvesting” that Republicans oppose.
In a post on Twitter, Trump praised that decision, writing, “We will be watching that the Democrats do not Ballot Harvest - a felony.”
Reporting by Jason Lange and Joseph Ax; Editing by Timothy Gardner and Daniel Wallis
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.