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Fact Check: Facebook posts – Facebook post wrongly says court ordered Pennsylvania to finish ballot counting on Election Day

A viral post on Facebook misreported the outcome of a court ruling about counting mail ballots in Pennsylvania. 

“Pennsylvania is under a court order to count their ballots on election day and not after!!” the Nov. 2 text post said.

It appears to refer to a court ruling about whether to count mail or absentee ballots that lack dates or are incorrectly dated. State law requires voters to handwrite a date on their mail-in ballot’s outer envelope.

But the commonwealth’s acting secretary, Leigh Chapman, wrote guidance to counties in September that stated “any ballot-return envelope that is undated or dated with an incorrect date” but was received on time shall be counted. 

State and national Republican groups including the Republican National Committee filed a petition in court challenging that state guidance. In Pennsylvania, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to vote by mail.

On Nov. 1, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that counties must refrain from counting any absentee and mail-in ballots that have undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes. The court ordered the counties to segregate ballots with missing or incorrect dates. 

The court wrote that it was “evenly divided on the issue of whether failing to count such ballots” violates federal voting rights law. The idea behind the decision is to preserve those ballots in case they can be counted later.

Chapman issued new guidance Nov. 3 telling local election officials to segregate undated or incorrectly dated ballots from other ballots. 

This Facebook post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.) 

Unlike what the Facebook post said, nothing in the Supreme Court’s two-page ruling addressed the deadline to count ballots.

On Oct. 26, Chapman said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that election results won’t be completed on election night. She has attributed the pace of the count to a state law that doesn’t allow election officials to begin processing mail and absentee ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day. Some states allow that process to begin weeks before Election Day.

Adam Bonin, an election lawyer, said that a law passed by the General Assembly this year says counties that opted into a grant program — which is nearly all of them — “shall begin canvassing mail-in ballots and absentee ballots at 8 p.m. on election day and shall continue without interruption until each ballot has been canvassed.”

“That doesn’t mean ‘must end by midnight,’” said Bonin, who represents the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the mail ballot case as an intervener-defendant. “Indeed, the same law says in the next clause, ‘no later than 12:01 a.m. on the day following the election, the county board of elections shall announce and post on its publicly accessible Internet website an unofficial number of absentee ballots and mail-in ballots received for the election.’ That implies that they know it won’t be done by midnight and can’t be.”

PolitiFact tried to reach attorneys who represented Republicans in the case but did not hear back by deadline.

The timeline for counting ballots begins at 8:01 p.m. Election Day. Counties have until 5 p.m. Nov. 15 to submit unofficial returns to the commonwealth and certified returns Nov. 28. 

Our ruling

A Facebook post said “Pennsylvania is under a court order to count their ballots on election day and not after!”

That’s not what a Nov. 1 state Supreme Court ruling said — mail and absentee ballots must still be counted after 8:01 p.m., per law, and officials have a week to submit unofficial results.

The court order said counties must segregate and refrain from counting any absentee and mail-in ballots that have undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes. The court ruling makes no mention of the timeline or deadline for counting ballots.

We rate this statement Pants on Fire!

PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird and fact-checker Becca Schimmel contributed to this fact-check.

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Source: PolitiFact.