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Voting Rights Advocates Sue Pennsylvania to End Disenfranchisement of Absentee Voters


HARRISBURG, PA. – Voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit today challenging a Pennsylvania law that makes it difficult for voters to vote by absentee ballot.  The plaintiffs include nine Pennsylvania residents, all of whom applied for absentee ballots on time but received the ballots either too close to or after Pennsylvania’s restrictive deadline for returning the ballots.  

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 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 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 (pictured). “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 due to missing the return deadline.

The nine plaintiffs include 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.

“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,” said Cassandra Adams Jones, one of the voters who filed the lawsuit after she was 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.”

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.

The complaint is available at aclupa.org/Torres.

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