Court to settle ballot signature issue

APThe Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether ballots should be discarded if ballot signatures don’t match those on file for the voter.

HARRISBURG – The state Supreme Court will decide whether counties should be allowed to discard mail-in ballots over disputed signatures.

The issue of rejecting ballots over alleged differences between the signatures on file and those submitted with mail-in ballots has emerged as one of the final flashpoints of controversy in what’s been a rapidly evolving set of election rules in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 3 presidential election – the first presidential election since Pennsylvania began allowing no-excuse mail-in voting.

The court’s move to take up the question comes as more than 500,000 mail-in votes have already been submitted, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said Wednesday.

More than 2.6 million people have applied for mail-in ballots, Boockvar said, adding that 97% of those ballots have either been mailed or will soon be mailed. Voters have used mail-in voting to submit 517,818 votes already, with about 400,000 of those mail-in ballots being submitted to county offices across the state in the last week, she said.

Republican legislative leaders have said they believe that allowing ballots to be rejected due to apparent differences in the signatures is a necessary election security protection.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, earlier this week, said that Boockvar’s efforts to get the courts to bar counties from rejecting ballots over mismatched signatures has angered Republican lawmakers to the point that they have been hesitant to make a deal with the Wolf Administration on other less-controversial election reforms.

The Supreme Court in its order Wednesday said that state Republican lawmakers will not be allowed to participate directly to argue in favor of allowing counties to reject ballots over disputed signatures.

The state Republican Party, the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Donald J. Trump for President campaign will be allowed to intervene to argue in favor of allowing ballots to be rejected over disputed signatures, according to the court’s order.

Justice Max Baer filed a dissenting opinion in which he said the Supreme Court shouldn’t take up the case because the matter had already been resolved in a separate federal lawsuit in which the judge concluded that ballots shouldn’t be discarded over disputed signatures.

“I see no basis for this Court to entertain further the Secretary’s request for review,” he said.

In addition to Baer, Chief Justice Thomas Saylor and Justice Christine Donohue dissented, though without filing an opinion to explain why.

Justice David Wecht filed an opinion in which he said that he shared some of Baer’s concerns but that due to “the important and unresolved legal question” of whether to allow ballots to be discarded over possible mismatches, he thought the court should consider the matter.