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March 16, 2022

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A federal district court in Allentown, Pennsylvania, ruled today that the mail and absentee ballots of 257 voters from the 2021 general election in Lehigh County must be disqualified because the voters mistakenly forgot to date their return envelopes.

The court ruled in response to a lawsuit filed by five voters, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, who argued that their ballots should be counted because they were returned by the deadline and the date on the return envelope is not relevant to their eligibility to vote.

“Anyone who is eligible to vote and who submitted their ballot on time should have their vote counted, and everyone involved in this case acknowledges that these ballots are those of qualified voters who returned their ballots by the deadline,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Dating the return envelope is an irrelevant technicality and is a foolish reason to disenfranchise someone. This is a basic principle of democracy, and it is disappointing that the court failed to understand it.”

After the 2021 general election, the Lehigh County Election Board intended to count the ballots with the undated return envelopes. However, a judicial candidate, David Ritter, sued the county in state court, arguing that state law forbids counting the ballots. The Commonwealth Court ruled in his favor, and the state Supreme Court opted not to hear the case.

On January 31, one day before a scheduled meeting of the county election board to certify the election results, the ACLU of Pennsylvania sued the county on behalf of the five voters.

“Counting every vote needs to be a fundamental principle for everyone who cares about democracy, regardless of party or who they vote for,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We need less barriers to voting, not more. Unfortunately, this ruling leaves a ridiculous barrier in place, one that does not serve any useful purpose.”

The case has the potential to have significant impact in Pennsylvania. One percent of mail and absentee voters in Lehigh County in the 2021 general election forgot to date their return envelope. In comparison, one percent of mail and absentee voters statewide in the 2020 general election was 27,000 people.

“If ballots with undated return envelopes are disqualified in a high-turnout, statewide election, tens of thousands of people could be disenfranchised,” Walczak said.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania will announce soon if the voters intend to appeal the ruling. The court’s opinion and more information about this case is available at