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Two lawmakers sue every county in Pennsylvania over absentee ballots

Two Pennsylvania House lawmakers sued the state’s 67 board of elections offices and Pennsylvania itself over absentee ballots.
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Two Pennsylvania House lawmakers sued the state’s 67 board of elections offices and Pennsylvania itself over absentee ballots.

State House Republicans David Zimmerman and Kathy Rapp sued over a disparity between the Pa. Constitution and the state’s Election Code.

Currently, voters use drop-off boxes or return absentee ballots to their county board of elections office.

Zimmerman and Rapp argue that all absentee ballots should be returned to the voting district that the voter resides in. Officials then canvas the ballots – the number of ballots received is counted, not the number of votes. After canvassing, ballots from each voting district should be sent to their county office for vote counting, according to the state’s Constitution.

However, all Pa. counties follow the state’s Election Code, which states the opposite. Officials canvass and count absentee ballots at their county board of elections office.

The lawsuit asks the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania to decide whether election officials should follow the state’s Constitution or the Election Code’s regulations on absentee voting.

Wayne County Solicitor Wendell Kay explained how the situation gets even more confusing, as Zimmerman and Rapp include mail-in ballots in their description of ‘absentee’.

“Due to the language in the Pennsylvania Constitution, which is what [Zimmerman and Rapp] are relying on, when this part of the Constitution was drafted, there was no such thing as mail-in voting,” said Kay. “So, I’m sure someone along the line will argue that, ‘Well, the literal language in the Constitution says absentee ballot. So, that’s not necessarily what we’re talking about here with [mail-in and absentee ballots].’”

Besides the legal concerns, Wayne County Chairman Brian Smith said if the Commonwealth Court rules in favor of Zimmerman and Rapp, the election system will get more complicated.

“It offers some consistency. And it offers…us to be able to use the equipment that we have without transporting it out, all over the place. I mean, it just makes sense,” said Smith.

Vice-chair Jocelyn Cramer added that the change would not only strain the county office, but polling locations as well.

“There’s trained staff who have been doing this for years. I mean, we still have trouble getting poll workers in each of the little locations…So, a central location, just from a functionality standpoint, is something that I feel much more comfortable with from a security standpoint,” said Cramer.

Along with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and every county board of elections, Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt and the Pa. Department of State were also sued.

WVIA News will follow this case as it develops.

Isabela Weiss is a storyteller turned reporter from Athens, GA. She is WVIA News's Rural Government Reporter and a Report for America corps member. Weiss lives in Wilkes-Barre with her fabulous cats, Boo and Lorelai.

You can email Isabella at isabelaweiss@wvia.org