(The Center Square) – A Pennsylvania appeals court has reversed a lower court’s ruling to count hundreds of mail-in ballots in Lehigh County that did not include a date on the return envelope, as required by law.

The case centers on a challenge to the Nov. 2 municipal election by Republican David Ritter, a candidate for a judgeship on the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas who holds a narrow lead over Democrat Zachary Cohen for the last of three open seats.

Ritter identified 257 mail-in ballots that did not contain a date on the return envelope and four ballots with the date in the wrong place that were counted last fall by the Lehigh County Board of Elections.

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A trial court affirmed the board’s decision in an order issued Nov. 30, but the Commonwealth Court reversed that ruling Monday in an opinion authored by Judge Patricia McCullough. McCullough cited a 2020 Supreme Court case on similar issues in ruling the ballots must not be counted.

“Upon review, we conclude that the 257 ballots that do not contain a date must be set aside and not counted in the municipal election,” McCullough wrote. “Because the remaining four ballots will not have an impact as to whether Ritter obtained enough votes to be elected to a judgeship, we decline to determine their validity or invalidity under the Election Code.

“Accordingly, we reverse the order of the trial court and remand to the trial court to issue an order sustaining Ritter’s challenge to the board’s determination and directing the board to exclude the 257 ballots from the certified returns of the municipal election.”

Ritter told WFMZ-TV he was “very pleased” by the ruling.

“My team of attorneys and I are very pleased by the decision of the Commonwealth Court,” Ritter said. “We are now hopeful the matter will soon be fully and finally resolved so that the citizens of Lehigh County will have a full complement of judges on the Court of Common Pleas.”

State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, also applauded the court’s decision and attacked the Lehigh County Board of Elections for fighting the lawsuit.

“While I recognize the importance of the commonwealth court upholding Pennsylvania’s current election law when it ruled nearly 300 mail-in ballots shouldn’t be counted because of undated outer security envelopes, this is an issue which should have never been before the courts,” Grove said. “This issue was settled in 2020, therefore rouge counties and election boards need to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on frivolous lawsuits and administer elections on the law. Lehigh County should not seek an appeal and spend more taxpayers’ dollars on settled case law.”

‘This issue was settled in 2020, therefore rogue counties and election boards need to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on frivolous lawsuits and administer elections on the law.’

Grove, chair of the House State Government Committee, stressed how the Voting Rights Protection Act approved by the General Assembly and vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf would have provided a way for voters to rectify ballots with minor errors such as a missing date.

“Fortunately, the reintroduced version of the Voting Rights Protection Act includes measures to provide a legislative resolve to this issue,” he said. “I sincerely hope Wolf takes heed of these cases and recognizes the importance of this bill becoming law.

“Candidates and voters shouldn’t be left in limbo as they wait for election results like candidates and voters of Lehigh County are experiencing. Rather, we need a trusted, full-proof election process as proposed in the Voting Rights Protection Act,” Grove said.

Ritter’s lawsuit has prevented Lehigh County from certifying the 2021 election results. Cohen’s attorney, Adam Bonin, told WFMZ he plans to appeal the ruling.

“These 261 ballots are from registered voters who turned in their ballots on time. Their ballots should be counted,” he said. “We respectfully disagree with the decision of the Commonwealth Court and will be appealing to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania immediately.”

Victor Skinner writes for The Center Square.

This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.

5 thoughts on “Court ruling throws out more than 250 mail-in votes in Lehigh County”

  1. Pretty funny that Grove spent all this time and taxpayer money litigating and appealing a settled election but only NOW wants to end it while it’s in his favor. Reminds me of the mob chants after Trump lost in 2020 to stop counting votes while he was ahead… but then keep counting votes where he was losing… but then stop counting… but then keep counting…

    It’s crystal clear that the GOP’s agenda is to put rule of law and democratic process aside for partisan gain.

    1. The fact that his opponent wishes to file an appeal does not mean that he will be granted one. In the same fashion that the first ruling was appealed and the other candidate had declared his victory. It’s all the result of poorly written legislation and a politically driven judiciary. These fights will go on as long as it takes for the Commonwealth to get its act together and pass logical and sane voting laws. When I worked in maquiladoras in Mexico many years ago I always thought it interesting that my Mexican employees voting in Mexican elections had to show voter ID, but at that time those who crossed the border illegally did not have to show any voter ID to do in Texas.

      1. We already have incredibly few instances of voter fraud and more importantly, when it’s been committed it’s been easily found and successfully prosecuted. We don’t need MORE restrictions on our liberties, including voting, especially when they already are not being abused to any significant extent. Voting, like gun ownership, is a constitutionally protected right. Why is it necessary to create more and more regulation around voting because of a tiny number of instances of fraud but REMOVE regulation around guns when we have thousands of criminal misuses of guns every year?

        As far as voting in Mexico vs Texas –

        1) Mexico instituted voter ID laws several years prior to Texas (which has had voter ID laws for almost a decade) because, unlike the US, there was wide spread and pervasive voter fraud.

        2) In Mexico, the federal government issues the same, single, ID, for FREE, to virtually every adult in the country. They also have a single, federally managed voter roll. In the US, every state sets their own standards for IDs which may or may not include all sorts of different things.

        1. So, you agree with me about voter ID. The US should do the same on a national level for voter ID. I agree with you that this makes a lot of sense.

        2. Will Maybe you should look at the videos of Delaware County officials discussing destruction of tapes that must be held for 22 months before you declare how open and honest PA elections are run.

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