A five-judge panel agreed with Republicans who had challenged the law, Act 77, saying the state’s constitution required people to vote in person unless they had a specific excuse, such as having a disability or being away from home on Election Day.
Three Republican judges ruled Act 77 was unconstitutional and two Democratic judges dissented.
Democrats actively used mail-in voting in 2020, helping President Joe Biden win the state over Donald Trump by some 80,000 votes. The case is part of a broader national fight between Republicans and Democrats over voting rules following the 2020 election.
Friday’s ruling comes ahead of important races in Pennsylvania, including the one for retiring Republican US Senator Pat Toomey, a contest that could help determine control of Congress in November’s midterm elections.
Commonwealth Court President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt said that while she believed Pennsylvanians would support eliminating the in-person voting requirement, a constitutional amendment, rather than legislation, was the appropriate first step.
“An amendment to our Constitution that ends the requirement of in-person voting is the necessary prerequisite to the legislature’s establishment of a no-excuse mail-in voting system,” Leavitt wrote in the ruling.
Act 77 was implemented in 2019 with Republican support. But Republicans changed their views on the law after Trump lost the state, with many of them embracing the former president’s false claims that widespread fraud tied to mail-in ballots was behind his defeat.
“We need leaders to support removing more barriers to voting, not trying to silence the people,” Wolf’s office said.
Trump and Republicans quickly lauded the decision.
The mail-in voting law has become a hot topic on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania, with nearly every Republican candidate for governor – including two of three state senators who had voted for the law – vowing to repeal it.
Even Republicans who avoid repeating Trump’s baseless election fraud claims have disparaged the actions of state judges and officials as “unconstitutional” or “illegal” in the handling of disputes and questions over the mail-in voting law in 2020.
Shapiro criticised the lower court’s opinion as “based on twisted logic and faulty reasoning” and “wrong on the law”.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic made mail-in voting more attractive to voters worried about health risks.
More than 2.6 million Pennsylvanians voted by mail in the election. After a campaign that saw Trump repeatedly disparage voting by mail, roughly three-quarters of ballots cast by mail selected Biden.