The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Thursday that officials in the battleground state can reject mail-in ballots sent without a secrecy envelope, which prevents the poll workers from seeing how someone voted. The ruling rescinded previous guidance allowing counties to count "naked ballots."
More than 100,000 ballots could be thrown out as a result of the decision, according to Lisa Deeley, the chair of the Philadelphia city commissioners.
President Trump won Pennsylvania by just over 44,000 votes during the 2016 election.
In a letter sent to Republican leaders in the state legislature on Monday, Deeley called on lawmakers to take up urgent legislative action to eliminate the secrecy envelope requirement for mail-in ballots, warning it could cause "election chaos."
"Recent action by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court have set Pennsylvania up to be the subject of significant post-election legal controversy, the likes of which we have not seen since Florida in 2000," Deeley wrote, referring to a monthlong recount battle between Al Gore and George W. Bush that ended only with Supreme Court intervention.
Pennsylvania is one of only 16 states that still requires a secrecy envelope.
"This is not a partisan issue," wrote Deeley, a Democrat. "We are talking about the voting rights of our constituents, whether they be Democrats, Republicans, or independents, whose ballots will be needlessly set aside. As public servants, we owe it to all citizens to avoid this situation, and the likely chaos that would come with it."
In an email to Fox News, Mike Straub, a spokesperson for Rep. Bryan Cutler, a Republican and the leader of the state's House of Representatives, rejected the argument that not accepting naked ballots could cause Election Day chaos and called the Supreme Court's decision "clear and fair."
"The secrecy envelopes are not new," Straub said. "The directions for correctly returning your ballot are provided to every voter who applies to vote by mail. These rules have existed as long as mail-in voting has existed in Pennsylvania (as in longer than the expansion last fall). It is not new to the counties. It serves an important step in preserving the privacy of the voter – as the courts agreed."
A spokesperson for Senate president pro tempore Joe Scarnati did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It's unclear how many ballots could be thrown out as a result of the court's order. This is the first election in which every Pennsylvania voter will be eligible to vote by mail.
In her letter, Deeley said that 6.4% of absentee ballots in the state’s 2019 general election did not have secrecy envelopes. Based on those figures, she estimated that up to 40,000 ballots could be tossed in Philadelphia alone.
Millions of Americans are expected to vote by mail this November due to the coronavirus pandemic, increasing the chances the winner of the presidential race won't immediately be known on election night. State election officials in several key battleground states have warned it could take days to count all of the votes.
Trump has repeatedly claimed--without evidence--that mail-in voting would allow for widespread fraud.
According to an aggregate of polls from RealClearPolitics, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is leading Trump by 3.8 percentage points in Pennsylvania.
Although the ruling on naked ballots was viewed as a loss for Democrats, who are projected to vote by mail at a higher rate than Republicans, the state Supreme Court handed down a series of other decisions that could benefit the party.
For instance, the court removed Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins from the general election ballot, potentially helping Biden. The Democratic-controlled court also ruled that drop boxes are permitted and mail ballots must be counted if they are received three days after Nov. 3, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.