Former Clarion Woman Involved in Lawsuit Alleging Disenfranchisement of Absentee Voters in Pennsylvania
The nine plaintiffs, including Cassandra Adams – a thirty-three-year-old public-relations professional who moved from Clarion County to Philadelphia in October of 2018 – are traveling professionals who are frequently away from home, workers whose employment obligations make it impossible to vote in person on Election Day and out-of-state college students. They are residents of counties throughout Pennsylvania, including Allegheny, Berks, Butler, Clarion, Juniata, Montgomery, Perry, and York.
All of the plaintiffs applied for absentee ballots on time but received the ballots either too close to or after Pennsylvania’s deadline for returning the ballots.
“I am disappointed that my vote and my husband’s vote didn’t count in the past election and, more importantly, concerned that this will happen again to us or others,” Jones said after being unable to vote in Clarion County.
“Because of our occupations, we travel often and may have to vote by absentee ballot again, but I have zero confidence that our votes will count if we have to use that method in the future.”
Pennsylvania law allows voters to apply for an absentee ballot up until a week before Election Day but requires that ballots be received by county election bureaus by 5:00 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day. According to the lawsuit, which was filed in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, Pennsylvania has the earliest deadline in the nation for returning absentee ballots. Other than Louisiana and Mississippi, every other state allows voters to submit their absentee ballots on Election Day or to have them postmarked by that date and delivered later.
The lawsuit contends that “Pensylvania’s Election Code establishes a deadline for receiving completed absentee ballots that regularly disenfranchises Pennsylvanians who timely submit absentee ballot applications, but receive their absentee ballot so late that they cannot fill it out and mail it back to election officials before the Election Code deadline.”
It goes on to contend that “In election after election, thousands of Pensylvania absentee voters timely submit their absentee ballot application in compliance with state law – by the Tuesday before Election Day – but do not receive their ballot until that Friday or later, which is at or after the submission deadline. It is impossible for these voters to return their absentee ballot before the Friday absentee ballot receipt deadline, even though these voters have fulfilled completely their legal obligations to vote by absentee ballot.”
The voters are represented by Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which is also a plaintiff in the suit; the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project; and other volunteer attorneys. The lawsuit asks the court to overturn the unreasonably early deadline for returning absentee ballots because it is a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution’s guarantees of “free and equal” elections and equal protection under the law.
“Pennsylvania’s deadline for returning absentee ballots stands as one of the most restrictive in the nation,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“Every election cycle, it disenfranchises countless voters across the state who are fully eligible but simply unable to meet the restrictive time frame for requesting and returning an absentee ballot. This law has the starkest impact on those voters who seek an absentee ballot around the time of the deadline. We will continue to turn to the courts to beat back unnecessary obstacles imposed by states on voters.”
“Thousands of Pennsylvanians have been denied their fundamental right to vote because of this early deadline for returning an absentee ballot,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
“Meanwhile, other states have shown that they can fairly administer absentee voting while receiving ballots up to Election Day and even beyond. The Friday deadline is completely unnecessary, and people miss their chance to have their votes counted because of it.”
According to a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer in August 2018, Pennsylvania rejected more than 2,000 absentee ballots in the 2014 election, 86 percent of which were a result of missing the return deadline.
The plaintiffs are represented by Witold Walczak and Molly Tack-Hooper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; Sophia Lin Lakin and Adriel Cepeda Derieux of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project; and Ezra Rosenberg, John Powers, and Pooja Chaudhuri of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
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