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Case: Pennsylvania Democratic Party v. Boockvar

407-MD-2020 | Pennsylvania state appellate court

Filed Date: July 10, 2020

Closed Date: Feb. 22, 2021

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

This case is about the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on mail-in voting. On July 10, 2020, the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania and several Democratic politicians in the state filed this lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, a state appeals court that had original jurisdiction in this case because the matter was about elections. The plaintiffs, represented by a private law firm, sued Pennsylvania under the state Declaratory Judgment Act, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief in sup…

This case is about the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on mail-in voting. On July 10, 2020, the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania and several Democratic politicians in the state filed this lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, a state appeals court that had original jurisdiction in this case because the matter was about elections. The plaintiffs, represented by a private law firm, sued Pennsylvania under the state Declaratory Judgment Act, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief in support of mail-in voting in the 2020 general election.

The plaintiffs asked the court to clarify the rules Pennsylvania state law imposed on the process of mail-in voting. All voters in the state were allowed to use mail-in ballots due to the recent passage of Act 77. However, according to the plaintiffs, ambiguities in this law and disagreements over its implementation could lead to problems in the election, especially since at the time, President Donald Trump was claiming that mail-in voting would lead to fraud. The plaintiffs wanted the court to interpret Act 77 to clarify the law and ensure that all counties in Pennsylvania would use the same rules. They also argued that specific changes in the election process were required by the Free and Fair Elections Clause of the state Constitution.

This suit was partially a response to a previous case, Donald J. Trump for President v. Boockvar, which had been filed less than two weeks earlier. In that case, the Trump campaign had sued Pennsylvania in federal court, alleging that the rules that the Secretary of State had given to the counties about mail-in voting contradicted state law and the state and federal Constitutions. The plaintiffs in Democratic Party v. Boockvar asked the court to declare that the allegations in Trump for President v. Boockvar were based on false interpretations of state law.

The plaintiffs in this case focused on several different aspects of mail-in voting. First, they sought a declaratory judgment that it was legal for counties to let people bring their ballots to drop boxes. They also asked for an injunction mandating that the county boards of elections create policies to make mail-in voting easier given the COVID-19 pandemic. The claim about drop boxes was a direct response to Trump for President v. Boockvar, in which the Trump campaign had asked the court to stop counties from using drop boxes because they violated state law. Second, the plaintiffs in this case asked for an injunction requiring counties to count ballots that people had mailed by Election Day even if they arrived in the week after Election Day. They alleged that delays in sending out ballots would prevent people from returning them on time, and that an extension was required by the Free and Fair Elections Clause of the state Constitution.

Third, the plaintiffs sought both a declaratory judgment and an injunction that if a voter returned a mail-in ballot with an error, election officials should inform the person and let them fix the issue. They argued that this was required by the Free and Fair Elections Clause. Fourth, the plaintiffs sought both a declaratory judgment and an injunction that if a voter failed to put an outer secrecy envelope around their ballot, it must still be counted. This was a response to Trump for President v. Boockvar, where the Trump campaign had argued that according to state law these ballots were invalid.

Finally, the plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that it was constitutional for state law to only let poll watchers work in their own counties. In Trump for President v. Boockvar, the Trump campaign had claimed that this law violated the state and federal Constitutions because it infringed free speech and voting rights, and that it would increase voter fraud because there would not be enough poll watchers in particular areas of the state.

On August 16, 2020, before the Commonwealth Court issued any ruling, the defendants asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to hear the case under extraordinary jurisdiction, which lets the Court take up a lower case based on its importance and urgency. On September 1, 2020, the state Supreme Court granted the request. Two days later, the Court let the Republican Party of Pennsylvania and the state Senate Republican leaders intervene on the defendants' side.

Sixteen days later, on September 17, the state Supreme Court ruled for the plaintiffs on some issues and against them on others. 238 A.3d 345. First, it held that using drop boxes for mail-in ballots was legal because it was best to interpret the ambiguous state law in a way that allowed more voting access rather than less. However, it refused to require counties to create policies to make mail-in voting easier because it would exceed the court’s authority. Second, it ruled that counties must count ballots that were mailed by Election Day if they arrived in the three days after Election Day. Given the COVID-19 pandemic and problems with the postal service, the court held that the Free and Fair Elections Clause justified a change of the deadline.

Third, the court held that state law did not require counties to let people fix errors on their ballots, and that the courts should leave such a rule to the state legislature. Fourth, the court held that according to state law, ballots without secrecy envelopes were invalid. Finally, the court ruled that it was constitutional to let poll watchers only work in their own counties because it did not infringe free speech or voting rights. It also found that the defendants had not proven any increased need for poll watching due to mail-in voter fraud. This decision was key to allowing the federal court in Donald J. Trump for President v. Boockvar to evaluate state law claims.

On September 21, 2020, the Republican Party asked the state Supreme Court to temporarily put a hold on its ruling so they could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the next day the Senate leaders asked for the same thing. The state Supreme Court denied both applications on September 24. Four days later, both the Republican Party and the Senate leaders sought a stay in the case from the U.S. Supreme Court, specifically requesting that it stop the state Supreme Court from changing the mail-in ballot deadline.

About three weeks later, on October 19, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the stay application on a four to four vote. 141 S. Ct. 643. Four days later, the Republican Party asked the Supreme Court to hear the full case, and to speed up the process so it could be heard as quickly as possible. On October 27, the Senate leaders also asked the Supreme Court to hear the case. However, the motion to expedite was denied the next day. 141 S. Ct. 1. Justice Alito, joined by Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, wrote an opinion criticizing the state Supreme Court’s decision to let mail-in ballots be counted past Election Day because it contradicted the legislature. However, he believed rushing a ruling before Election Day was impractical. On November 6, the Republican Party sought an injunction requiring that the counties store late ballots separately so the Court could rule later on whether they were valid, and on the same day Justice Alito granted the request. 2020 WL 6536912.

On February 5, 2021, the defendant in the case, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, resigned. Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid became the new defendant.

About two weeks later, on February 22, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the requests to hear the case. 141 S. Ct. 732. There were two dissents, written by Justice Thomas and Justice Alito, who was joined by Justice Gorsuch. The dissents argued that the Court should have heard the case because it contained an important issue about whether state courts can change rules in federal elections.

As of October 2022, there were no further proceedings.

Summary Authors

(10/16/2022)

Related Cases

Donald J. Trump for President v. Boockvar, Western District of Pennsylvania (2020)

People


Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Farrell, George J (Pennsylvania)

Greenberg, Kevin (Pennsylvania)

Lacey, Alex M (Pennsylvania)

Levine, Clifford B (Pennsylvania)

Palnick, Lazar M (Pennsylvania)

Pratt, A Michael (Pennsylvania)

Roseman, Adam R (Pennsylvania)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Armezzani, Richard L (Pennsylvania)

Aronchick, Mark A. (Pennsylvania)

Barbin, William Gleason (Pennsylvania)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Farrell, George J (Pennsylvania)

Greenberg, Kevin (Pennsylvania)

Lacey, Alex M (Pennsylvania)

Levine, Clifford B (Pennsylvania)

Palnick, Lazar M (Pennsylvania)

Pratt, A Michael (Pennsylvania)

Roseman, Adam R (Pennsylvania)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Armezzani, Richard L (Pennsylvania)

Aronchick, Mark A. (Pennsylvania)

Barbin, William Gleason (Pennsylvania)

Blewitt, Regina M (Pennsylvania)

Boland, Nicole J (Pennsylvania)

Bozovich, Heather Lynn (Pennsylvania)

Brennan, Timothy P (Pennsylvania)

Brier, Daniel T. (Pennsylvania)

Clarke, Anthony V (Pennsylvania)

Coploff, Larry E. (Pennsylvania)

Davies, Susan M (District of Columbia)

DeLone, Bart J (Pennsylvania)

Dempsey, John B. (Pennsylvania)

DeWald, Carole Kay (Missouri)

Donovan, Daniel T (District of Columbia)

Dupuis, Elizabeth A (Pennsylvania)

Edwards, Stephen B (Pennsylvania)

Gabriel, Christopher P (Pennsylvania)

Gates, Timothy (Pennsylvania)

Gawlas, Robert (Pennsylvania)

Geiger, Gerard Joseph (Pennsylvania)

Giunta, M. Abbegael (Pennsylvania)

Glick, Michael (Illinois)

Grimm, Robert J. (Pennsylvania)

Grugan, Terence (Pennsylvania)

Hangley, Michele D. (Pennsylvania)

Hausner, Christina L (Pennsylvania)

Hill, John B (Pennsylvania)

Hopkirk, Howard G (Pennsylvania)

Janocsko, George (Pennsylvania)

Joel, Kenneth Lawson (Pennsylvania)

Joyce, Ryan Michael (Pennsylvania)

Karn, Nathan W (Pennsylvania)

Keegan, Sean R (Pennsylvania)

Kotula, Kathleen Marie (Pennsylvania)

Lavery, Frank J. Jr. (Pennsylvania)

Madden, William J (Pennsylvania)

Moniak, Stephen (Pennsylvania)

Mott, Sean Alexander (Pennsylvania)

Mudd, Molly R (Pennsylvania)

Neary, Keli Marie (Pennsylvania)

Norfleet, Andrew W (Pennsylvania)

Opsitnick, Allan J. (Pennsylvania)

Page, Allen P (Pennsylvania)

Regoli, David A (Pennsylvania)

Rogers, Edward D (Pennsylvania)

Romano, Karen Mascio (Pennsylvania)

Santee, Richard E (Pennsylvania)

Schaub, Robert (Pennsylvania)

Shaffer, Thomas R (Pennsylvania)

Silverman, Steven (Pennsylvania)

Snook, Stephen S. (Pennsylvania)

Sobol, Gregory D (Pennsylvania)

Staley, Krista Ann M. (Pennsylvania)

Steere, Christine D (Pennsylvania)

Szefi, Andrew F. (Pennsylvania)

Talarico, Thomas S (Pennsylvania)

Taylor, Brian (Pennsylvania)

Walsh, Donna A. (Pennsylvania)

White, H. William III (Pennsylvania)

Wingfield, Elizabeth (Pennsylvania)

Wiygul, Robert (Pennsylvania)

Zwick, C.J. (Pennsylvania)

Other Attorney(s)

Brannon, Sarah (District of Columbia)

Cepeda Derieux, Adriel I. (New York)

Gallagher, Kathleen A. (Pennsylvania)

Geffen, Benjamin D. (Pennsylvania)

Giancola, Russell David (Pennsylvania)

Hicks, Ronald L Jr (Pennsylvania)

Lakin, Sophia L. (New York)

Martin, Lori A (New York)

Mckenzie, Mary M. (Pennsylvania)

Winklosky, Devin Arlie (Pennsylvania)

Expert/Monitor/Master

Marks, Jonathan M (Pennsylvania)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

407-MD-2020

Petition for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief

Pennsylvania state trial court

July 10, 2020

July 10, 2020

Complaint

133-MM-2020

Opinion

Pennsylvania state supreme court

Sept. 17, 2020

Sept. 17, 2020

Order/Opinion

20-00542

Petition for Writ of Certiorari

Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Boockvar

Supreme Court of the United States

Oct. 23, 2020

Oct. 23, 2020

Pleading / Motion / Brief

20-00574

Petition for Writ of Certiorari

Scarnati III v. Pennsylvania Democratic Party

Supreme Court of the United States

Oct. 27, 2020

Oct. 27, 2020

Pleading / Motion / Brief

20-00542

Opinion of the Court

Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Boockvar

Supreme Court of the United States

Oct. 28, 2020

Oct. 28, 2020

Order/Opinion

20-00542

20-00574

Opinion of the Court

Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Degraffenreid

Supreme Court of the United States

Feb. 22, 2021

Feb. 22, 2021

Order/Opinion

Resources

Title Description External URL Date / External URL

Pennsylvania Democratic Party v. Boockvar

Healthy Elections Project

Petitioners request a declaratory and injunction relief so as to protect the franchise of absentee and mail-in voters. On October 31, 2019 the Governor enacted Act 77 which permits no excuse mail-in … Sept. 6, 2020

Sept. 6, 2020

https://healthyelections-case-tracker.stanford.edu/...

No. 20A84

Republican Party of Pennsylvania, Applicant v. Veronica Degraffenreid, Acting Secretary of Pennsylvania, et al. Docket Nov. 13, 2020

Nov. 13, 2020

https://www.supremecourt.gov/...

No. 20-542

Republican Party of Pennsylvania, Petitioner v. Veronica Degraffenreid, Acting Secretary of Pennsylvania, et al. Docket Feb. 22, 2021

Feb. 22, 2021

https://www.supremecourt.gov/...

Miscellaneous Docket Sheet

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

Miscellaneous Docket Sheet; Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania Docket Number: 407 MD 2020 Oct. 13, 2022

Oct. 13, 2022

https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/...

Miscellaneous Docket Sheet

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Miscellaneous Docket Sheet Docket Number: 133 MM 2020 Oct. 13, 2022

Oct. 13, 2022

https://www.google.com/...

Republican Party of Pennsylvania, Applicant v. Kathy Boockvar, Secretary of Pennsylvania, et al.

Supreme Court of the United States

No. 20A54 Title: Republican Party of Pennsylvania, Applicant v. Kathy Boockvar, Secretary of Pennsylvania, et al. Docketed: September 28, 2020 Lower Ct: Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Middle Distr… Oct. 13, 2022

Oct. 13, 2022

https://www.supremecourt.gov/...

No. 20A53

Joseph B. Scarnati, III, et al., Applicants v. Kathy Boockvar, Secretary of Pennsylvania, et al. Docket Oct. 19, 2020

Oct. 19, 2020

https://www.supremecourt.gov/...

20-574

Jake Corman, et al., Petitioners v. Pennsylvania Democratic Party, et al. Docket Feb. 22, 2021

Feb. 22, 2021

https://www.supremecourt.gov/...

Docket

Last updated Aug. 20, 2022, 3 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Pennsylvania

Case Type(s):

Election/Voting Rights

Special Collection(s):

COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)

Healthy Elections COVID litigation tracker

Key Dates

Filing Date: July 10, 2020

Closing Date: Feb. 22, 2021

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party and several Democratic politicians in the state.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Public Interest Lawyer: No

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

State of Pennsylvania, State

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Constitutional Clause(s):

Due Process

Due Process: Substantive Due Process

Freedom of speech/association

Equal Protection

Special Case Type(s):

Appellate Court is initial court

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Complaint (any)

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Non-settlement Outcome

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Mixed

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Declaratory Judgment

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Issues

General:

Disparate Treatment

Voting

Voting access

Voting:

Election administration