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Pennsylvania Supreme Court extends mail ballot deadline

How states plan to count and collect ballots
Key states still determining how they will process and collect mail-in ballots 06:52

Pennsylvanians will have a three-day extension to return mail ballots with the Postal Service and the option to return them in drop boxes, the state's highest court ruled Thursday. The decision could help Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the key battleground state, especially as Democrats have taken in the lead in requests for absentee ballots. 

The state's election code requires mail ballots to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that counties must also accept ballots received by 5 p.m. the following Friday, as long as they were postmarked by Election Day or don't have a legible postmark.

The decision could mean many more Democratic votes are counted in Pennsylvania. In the state's June primary, over twice as many Democrats as Republicans applied to vote by mail.  In that election, counties received nearly 100,000 mail-in ballots after Election Day, the majority of which came in the three days following it, the secretary of the commonwealth testified in another court case. That's over twice as many votes as President Trump won the state by in 2016. 

But in the 2020 primary, all except about 9,000 of those ballots were counted due to an executive order from the governor that allowed a half dozen counties facing civil unrest at the time to count ballots they received a full week after election day.

The court also ruled that voters can return ballots by hand to drop boxes set up by counties. The Pennsylvania State Department allowed the drop boxes in the primary, but the Trump campaign asked a federal court to ban them. After the state Democratic Party filed a parallel lawsuit asking the Commonwealth Court to explicitly allow them, the federal court judge stayed the Trump campaign's case to let state courts make a ruling on the issue. The state Supreme Court used its King's Bench authority to overtake the case, and ruled in favor of Democrats.

Additionally, the court denied a request from the Trump campaign to allow out-of-county poll watchers. But it sided with the Trump campaign on so-called "naked ballots," ruling that ballots missing a secrecy envelope should not be counted. It also ruled that third parties cannot return ballots for voters, a decision Mr.Trump praised in a tweet

"State Supreme Court in Pennsylvania just affirmed that Ballot harvesting remains illegal," he wrote. "In other words, the Republican Party won on the atrocious Ballot Harvesting Scam." 

The rulings came after another decision that could also potentially help Biden's prospects in the state. The state Supreme Court ruled earlier that the Green Party's presidential candidate could not be on the ballot due to a procedural error. 

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