On February 9, over a dozen legislators gathered on the steps inside the Capitol rotunda to discuss the Commonwealth Court’s January ruling against Act 77.
In that ruling, the court said that a constitutional amendment is required to allow universal mail-in voting in Pennsylvania elections. Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote a 50-page opinion that explained why the court found Act 77 unconstitutional.
Representatives Dave Zimmerman (R-99, serving part of Lancaster County), Mike Jones (R-93, serving part of York County), and Tim Bonner (R-8, serving parts of Mercer and Butler counties) spoke at the press conference.
The three were selected to speak, Zimmerman said, because they represented the diversity of the group of 14 legislators who brought the case to the Commonwealth Court. Jones had voted for Act 77, Zimmerman had voted against it, and Bonner had not yet joined the legislature when Act 77 was passed.
Zimmerman opened the press conference by affirming the court’s ruling and thanking the legislators who brought the case to the Commonwealth Court. “The Pennsylvania Constitution clearly grants the people of our state the right to vote on these changes through the proper amendment process,” he said. “And that did not happen.”
Jones said that Act 77 effectively gives “the green light for whichever party is in the majority to dramatically alter election laws to suit their interests just prior to an election.” Though he initially supported Act 77, Jones now acknowledges that changes of this nature to the election law should be left to the discretion of Pennsylvanians.
Bonner, the only lawyer in the group of 14 legislators, spoke last. “The Commonwealth Court’s decision ruling Act 77 unconstitutional is a victory for the rule of law and for the people of Pennsylvania,” he said.
The Pennsylvania Constitution grants four exceptions to in-person voting, covering work requirements, health issues, religious holidays and poll workers. All four of these categories were approved by the people of Pennsylvania, Bonner said.
“Act 77 would allow all people in this commonwealth to vote by mail and no one would have to appear at the poll on election day,” Bonner said. “Our founding fathers never envisioned this system of voting.”
The Commonwealth Court’s ruling has been appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Because of how well Judge Leavitt’s opinion was written, the legislators said that they expect it will help their case through the Supreme Court and might make the Commonwealth Court’s decision harder to overturn. Bonner expressed optimism regarding the appeal and said that he is confident that the Supreme Court will affirm the decision made by the lower court. That could, in the end, result in Act 77 being repealed.