Pennsylvania mail-in voting lawsuit over Act 77 is at the state Supreme Court Pennsylvania's highest court is weighing a challenge to a state law that expanded mail-in voting. The challenge was put forth in part by 11 Republican lawmakers who voted for the law.

A mail-in voting law is under attack by Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers who passed it

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EMILY FENG, HOST:

Pennsylvania is one of five states holding their primaries tomorrow. In 2019, a Pennsylvania state law expanded which voters there can mail in their ballots. But Republicans across the country have turned against mail-in voting. And now a group of GOP lawmakers who helped pass the Pennsylvania law three years ago are suing to get it thrown out. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has the story.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: On Halloween 2019, Pennsylvania's Democratic governor made the newscast of Harrisburg's ABC27.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Tom Wolf will sign an election reform bill today that would deliver...

WANG: The bill capped off a bipartisan deal that had the backing of almost every Republican lawmaker in the GOP-controlled legislature.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The bill would allow voters to mail in ballots.

WANG: And not just some voters. Pennsylvania Act 77 allows all voters to mail in their ballots.

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JAKE CORMAN: Every bill we could pick some pieces that we don't like about it.

WANG: One of the state's top Republicans, the then state Senate majority leader, Jake Corman, sang Act 77's praises in October 2019.

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CORMAN: But I think ultimately, this is the most significant modernization of our election's code in decades.

WANG: These days, though, many Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania have changed their tune. Corman, who recently dropped out of the Republican primary for governor, has since called for ending no-excuse mail-in voting. And so has state Senator Doug Mastriano, a frontrunner in that governor's primary who is backed by former President Donald Trump. There's also state Representative Dan Moul.

DAN MOUL: So my bad. I should've checked the constitutionality of that big bill.

WANG: Moul is one of 11 Republicans in the Pennsylvania state House who are arguing in a lawsuit that the mail-in voting provisions in Act 77 that they voted for three years ago violate the state's constitution.

MOUL: We pass bills all the time. Do we go back and check every single one to make sure it stays within the confines of the Constitution? We'd never get anything done if we did that.

WANG: In court filings, the lawmakers argue that to change who can vote by absentee ballot in Pennsylvania requires changing the state's constitution. But the governor's administration counters that the state constitution allows lawmakers to determine how voters can cast their ballots. The case is now at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Trump and his allies have baselessly attacked the integrity of mail-in voting. State Representative Dan Moul says there's no connection between Trump's loss in 2020 and this Pennsylvania lawsuit. Instead, Moul points to the state Supreme Court's ruling that extended the deadline for accepting mail-in ballots and allowed drop boxes during major postal service delays in 2020.

MOUL: Had they had left it alone, we probably wouldn't be talking today.

WANG: Voters like Hassan Bennett are worried that depending on how the high court rules, fewer citizens could have the ability to vote by absentee ballot, including those who are jailed in their hometown while waiting for a trial like Bennett once was.

HASSAN BENNETT: They came to me with a ballot one day. It's a gasp of fresh air. It's empowering.

WANG: Bennett, a bail navigator who was wrongfully convicted for a crime he did not commit, is part of a group of voters organized by local voting rights groups to help show the Pennsylvania Supreme Court who exactly could be affected if mail-in voting is restricted. Bennett says that absentee ballots have been an essential lifeline for many citizens in Pennsylvania's jails.

BENNETT: Not only are they going to be more likely to vote, they're going to be more likely to advocate for other people to vote. And that's what democracy is all about - everybody's voice being heard.

MOLLY MAHON: In order for our voices to be heard, we need to be able to have the same access to the ballot boxes as everybody else.

WANG: Molly Mahon is a nurse at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who often has to work 12-hour shifts on election days. She's also part of the court filing in support of mail-in voting.

MAHON: The reality is, a lot of us, whoever is working on Election Day, if they're not using mail-in voting, they're most likely not voting.

WANG: Mahon says she's not sure yet if she'll be able to schedule time off to vote in person for November's election. And if she can't, whether her voice is heard through a mail-in ballot may be up to the courts.

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News.

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