The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected an appeal of a lower court’s decision upholding an extended deadline for receiving mail-in ballots for counting in the state of Pennsylvania. Thus, the ruling upholding the extended deadline remains in effect. Under the extended deadline, mail-in ballots could arrive up to the third day after Election Day and remain valid, and other states have implemented similarly extended deadlines for receiving mail-in ballots for counting. All ballots always must be postmarked by Election Day to be counted. The decision from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals offers some protection for the ballots that arrived back to election authorities in Pennsylvania — although a separate Republican appeal remained pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
PA Republicans' direct appeal of the PA Supreme Court decision is still pending before #SCOTUS, and isn't affected by this ruling. But it's a helpful discussion from a unanimous, diverse panel of why, as a general rule, federal courts can and should stay out of these disputes.
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) November 13, 2020
In the Third Circuit ruling, the three judges — who unanimously agreed in their ruling — said that a lower court had been correct to claim that the group of Pennsylvania voters who brought the lawsuit didn’t have the legal standing on which to bring their case in the first place. The judges added that even if they did conclude that the voters had standing to bring the case, they would not have acquiesced to their demands and thrown out the ballots that arrived post-Election Day but before the extended deadline.
In their ruling, the Third Circuit judges said that they offered no conclusive statements on the “wisdom” of the original deadline extension, which was established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in response to a lawsuit from Democrats over voting access in the state. Instead, the judges said, they were concluding that the voters who cast their ballots with the extended deadline in place did so according to then-active legal frameworks, so there’s no standing for a challenge.
‘We do not decide today whether the Deadline Extension or the Presumption of Timeliness are proper exercises of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s lawmaking authority, delegated by the U.S. Constitution, to regulate federal elections. Nor do we evaluate the policy wisdom of those two features of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling. We hold only that when voters cast their ballots under a state’s facially lawful election rule and in accordance with instructions from the state’s election officials, private citizens lack Article III standing to enjoin the counting of those ballots on the grounds that the source of the rule was the wrong state organ or that doing so dilutes their votes or constitutes differential treatment of voters in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.’
New: 3rd Circuit upheld a lower court order rejecting a constitutional challenge to PA's extended, post-Election Day deadline for absentee ballots. A separate challenge remains pending before SCOTUS, though, so the fate of those ballots remains unsettled https://t.co/lg7fMasCyd pic.twitter.com/e4rzoInKFC
— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) November 13, 2020
Some Republicans, as the ruling references, have alleged that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overstepped bounds in extending the deadline for receiving ballots, an issue that they say should have been left to the Pennsylvania state legislature — which is controlled by Republicans. The Republican Attorneys General Association has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the separate Republican appeal of the deadline.
Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar — the state’s top elections official — recently said that only about 10,000 mail-in ballots arrived back to election authorities in the post-Election Day period before the extended deadline. In Pennsylvania, Joe Biden’s lead stood at a little over 60,000 votes as of early Friday afternoon, according to the Cook Political Report. Thus, throwing out every mail-in ballot that had been received after Election Day but before the deadline would not swing the state to Trump, even if every one of the votes had been for Biden (which no doubt wasn’t the case).