Pennsylvania’s elections office joins Centre County in asking judge to dismiss GOP appeal

Pennsylvania’s elections office urged a judge Monday to dismiss a Republican challenge to the Centre County board of election’s decision to count some mail-in ballots that were not dated properly.

The Pennsylvania Department of State joined the county’s elections board in asking Centre County Judge Julia Rater to dismiss the appeal as untimely. In a footnote, the agency wrote its brief was not authored or paid for by anyone outside of the office.

“This Court must swiftly dismiss the Petition filed in this case because the Election Code unquestionably requires dismissal and so Centre County — and the Commonwealth — can conclude the 2024 primary,” an attorney for the agency wrote.

Centre County is the only one in the state that has not yet certified any of its results from the primary election, a process that was supposed to be completed by May 13. It has also held up the certification of statewide primary elections.

Centre County Republican Committee Chair Michelle Schellberg’s appeal alleged 95 mail-in ballots were counted improperly by the county’s elections board because they were not dated correctly. It did not claim fraud or that the votes would alter the outcome.

Instead, attorney Louis Glantz has argued the board’s decision could set a precedent that would make a “big difference” in what is expected to be a tightly contested presidential race in November.

The elections board — made up of the county’s three commissioners, two Democrats and one Republican — voted unanimously on April 25 to accept each of the ballots. The GOP appeal wasn’t filed until May 7, which solicitor Betsy Dupuis argued was “wholly deficient” and filed at least 10 days late.

In a brief filed Monday, Dupuis asked Rater to order Schellberg and voters who signed onto the appeal to pay for the cost of defending against it. Glantz, in response, argued the elections board was using “procedural technicalities” that would enable it to “continue to violate Pennsylvania law.”

Rater said at a hearing last week that she hopes to issue her decision by Friday, though she did not guarantee it.

A federal appeals court panel found in March that a requirement for Pennsylvania voters to put accurate handwritten dates on the outside envelopes of their mail-in ballots does not run afoul of a civil rights law.

A divided 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to uphold enforcement of the required date on return envelopes, a technical mandate that caused thousands of votes to be declared invalid in the 2022 election.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which helped represent groups and voters who challenged the date mandate, told the Associated Press the ruling could mean thousands of votes won’t be counted over what it believes is a meaningless error.

In Pennsylvania, Democrats have been far more likely to vote by mail than Republicans under an expansion of mail-in ballots enacted in 2019.