Pennsylvania court strikes down state’s mail-in ballot law | Political news

After Joe Biden won the 2020 US election, Republicans challenged a new state law that made it easier to vote by mail.

A court in the US state of Pennsylvania sided with Republican lawmakers on Friday to strike down a state law that had removed barriers to mail-in voting, raising a question mark over ballot access in the state of the political battleground ahead of crucial elections later this year.

A five-judge panel agreed with Republicans who challenged the law, Bill 77, saying the state constitution requires people to vote in person unless they have a specific excuse, such as have a disability or be away from home on polling day.

Three Republican judges ruled that Bill 77 was unconstitutional, and two Democratic judges dissented.

Democrats actively used mail-in voting in 2020, helping President Joe Biden win the state over Donald Trump by some 80,000 votes. The case is part of a larger national fight between Republicans and Democrats over voting rules after the 2020 election.

Friday’s decision comes ahead of major races in Pennsylvania, including that of retired Republican U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, a contest that could help determine control of Congress in November’s midterm elections.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has said it will immediately appeal the decision. This could temporarily put the decision on hold while it is pending in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Commonwealth Court President Justice Mary Hannah Leavitt said while she believed Pennsylvanians would support eliminating the in-person voting requirement, a constitutional amendment, rather than legislation, was the first appropriate step.

“An amendment to our Constitution that ends the requirement for in-person voting is the necessary precondition for the legislature to institute a no-excuse absentee voting system,” Leavitt wrote in the ruling.

Pennsylvania Election Code Bill 77 was passed in 2019 following a compromise between Republican and Democratic state lawmakers. Republicans sought to end direct voting, which had allowed voters to select a political party’s slate of candidates, and Democrats wanted to open mail-in voting to everyone.

Three-quarters of mail-in ballots cast in Pennsylvania in the 2020 presidential election were votes for Joe Biden [File: Matt Slocum/AP Photo]

Law 77 was implemented in 2019 with Republican support. But Republicans changed their minds on the law after Trump lost the state, with many embracing the former president’s false claims that widespread mail-in ballot fraud was in the works. cause of his defeat.

“We need leaders to support removing more barriers to voting, not trying to silence people,” Wolf’s office said.

Trump and Republicans quickly hailed the decision.

“Big news from Pennsylvania, a great patriotic spirit is growing to a level no one thought possible. Make America Great Again!” Trump said in a statement through his Political Action Committee.

Trump, who continues to play a prominent role in the Republican Party, has repeatedly claimed without credible evidence that the 2020 election was rigged.

The vote-by-mail law has become a hot topic on the Pennsylvania campaign trail, with nearly every Republican gubernatorial candidate — including two of the three state senators who voted for the law — pledging to repeal it.

Even Republicans who avoid repeating Trump’s baseless voter fraud allegations have denigrated the actions of judges and state officials as “unconstitutional” or “unlawful” in handling disputes and questions about the Elections Act. postal voting in 2020.

The state Supreme Court, which will hear the appeal, has a 5-2 Democratic majority and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said he was confident the law on mailing would stand as constitutional.

Shapiro criticized the trial court’s opinion as being “based on twisted logic and faulty reasoning” and “erroneous in law”.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has made mail-in voting more appealing to voters worried about health risks.

More than 2.6 million Pennsylvanians voted by mail in the election. After a campaign that saw Trump repeatedly disparage voting by mail, about three-quarters of ballots cast by mail selected Biden.

Earlier in January, an effort by Democrats in the US Congress to pass sweeping electoral reforms to make voting easier failed in the Senate due to Republican opposition.

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