Gop Lawmakers Press Philly Voting Officials On Ballot Rules

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Republican leaders in the Pennsylvania House threatened Friday to seek removal of two Democratic elections officials in Philadelphia for counting mail-in ballots that had not been hand-dated by the voters.

GOP caucus leaders sent letters to Lisa Deeley, who chairs the city's voting and elections board, and fellow board member Omar Sabir, arguing that state law requires the dates, even though the envelopes are postmarked. Republicans said they were looking into what occurred with similar mail-in ballots in other parts of the state.

The question of whether the hand-written dates are mandatory went before the state Supreme Court last year, during the first year of a new law that permits anyone to vote by mail. State law previously had required absentee voters to cite one of a very limited number of excuses in order to vote by mail.

The swing vote in that case, Justice David Wecht, permitted undated ballots to be counted but said his position pertained only to 2020, not to future elections.

Wecht, an elected Democrat, wrote that the declarations on the ballot envelopes are not optional.

“Thus, in future elections, I would treat the date and sign requirement as mandatory in both particulars, with the omission of either item sufficient without more to invalidate the ballot in question,” Wecht wrote.

The Republican leaders told Deeley and Sabir that if they allow such undated ballots from the May 18 primary to be counted, the House will seek the officials' removal from office through the impeachment process.

Sabir released a statement that referred to his oath to protect the right to vote.

“Many people fought and died to ensure people had a right to vote, and my stance aligns with that. And, it seems odd to be targeted when other counties have taken similar approaches when counting,” he said.

A message seeking comment was left for Deeley.

The Democratic leader of the House, Rep. Joanna McClinton of Philadelphia, said the General Assembly should focus on making voting simpler and easier and stop what she called partisan games.

“It’s troubling that the same House Republicans who demanded Congress refuse to count millions of Pennsylvania’s ballots last November are now threatening Philadelphia’s election commissioners for counting citizen ballots legally cast in the primary," McClinton said.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Philadelphia City Commission, the city's elections board, voted 2-1 this week to count the ballots. Deeley and Sabir, who voted “yes,” are Democrats. The board's lone Republican, Al Schmidt, voted against it.

The Inquirer said undated mail-in ballots are also being counted in the suburban counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery. House Republican spokesperson Jason Gottesman said the GOP caucus is looking into practices in other counties.

“We don’t know exactly what happened in other counties, but in Philadelphia, we know there was action and a vote was taken by election officials,” Gottesman said, accusing them of “openly and flagrantly violating the law.”

He said the GOP caucus wants Deeley and Sabir to “take corrective action to ensure that the law is followed.”

Were the House to vote to impeach them, it would require a supermajority of state senators to convict, an extremely rare process in the Pennsylvania Legislature.