State Rep. Timothy R. Bonner is hoping to see Act 77 overturned, thereby restricting the criteria for mail-in and absentee voting in Pennsylvania.
Bonner, R-8, Pine Township, is one of 14 members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives who have filed lawsuits challenging Act 77, which allows for “no excuse” voting for mail-in and absentee ballots.
Under the law, voters do not need to have a specific reason to submit mail-in ballots. Bonner’s lawsuit claims that Act 77, which was signed into law in 2019, is an improper method to expand voting options.
The state representatives believe that Act 77 violates Article VII, Section 14, of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
The lawsuit claims all prior expansion of absentee or mail-in voting in Pennsylvania has been done with constitutional amendments and approved by residents – not by the General Assembly passing statutes like Act 77, according to a news release issued by Bonner.
Before Act 77 took effect in 2019, absentee and mail-in ballots were permitted in Pennsylvania only for specific circumstances — including military service, employment duties, disabilities or illness and religious holidays — that prevented people from casting ballots in person.
The Senate and the House attempted in 2019 to put a hold on Act 77 through a constitutional amendment, but the process was abandoned because they felt it would take too long and not be completed in time for the November 2020 election.
A constitutional amendment would require approval by statewide referendum, Bonner said, adding that he’s connected with many of his constituents who are not in favor of Act 77.
The next step is for the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General to respond to the lawsuits, which Bonner expects this month.
He believes that the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court will schedule legal arguments soon after.
The lawsuits don’t ask for a certain deadline or timetable, and the state representatives are not seeking to have their request applied retroactively, he said.
If Act 77 is reversed, the change would take effect for the next election.
When asked about some voters who are concerned about going to the polls in-person because of COVID-19, Bonner said that the virus doesn’t seem to have been an issue so far, especially since social distancing has been in place.
“And those with pre-existing issues can vote absentee or mail-in,” he added.
Commonwealth Court in 2020 said that there was a “viable claim” that Act 77 violated the Pennsylvania Constitution, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court took over the case, leaving the constitutionality of Act 77 undetermined.
“This lawsuit will determine whether the power to expand absentee or mail-in voting remains with the people or whether the government has the unilateral right to create a distinct and separate form of voting referred to as ‘no excuse mail-in voting’ without the approval of the citizens of Pennsylvania, Bonner said in the news release.