The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the Green Party ticket from the state’s presidential ballot and expanded mail-in voting, two rulings that potentially dealt a blow to President Trump’s reelection bid in that battleground state.
The ruling made Pennsylvania the second swing state this week to kick the Green Party off the ballot, saving Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden some left-wing competition at the polls.
The high court ruled that Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins and vice presidential candidate Angela Walker failed to submit filing papers in person as required and therefore forfeited their spot on the ballot.
Democrats have long fought to keep Green Party candidates off the ballot to prevent them from siphoning off left-leaning voters. This year, the effort went into overdrive and succeeded in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, two key states where the Green Party helped sink Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The ruling also cleared the way for Pennsylvania to start sending out mail-in ballots, which had been delayed for the ballot access fight.
In a separate ruling, the court bucked the Trump campaign by allowing the counting of mail-in ballots received up to three days after the Nov. 3 election unless there is a clear indication that the ballots were mailed after Election Day.
The decision added to the chances of a drawn-out tallying of votes in a state that sealed Mr. Trump’s 2016 upset win over Mrs. Clinton by a margin of less than 1 percentage point.
The court also allowed mail-in ballots to be deposited in drop boxes set up at satellite offices by the county bureaus of elections.
The Trump campaign intervened in the mail-in voting lawsuit to argue that ballots must be cast by the end of Election Day and that satellite drop-off threatened election integrity.
“We have no hesitation in concluding that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic equates to a natural disaster,” Judge Max Baer, a Democrat elected to the state’s high court in 2003, wrote for the court’s majority in expanding the mail-in process.
In the ballot access case, the Green Party originally filed for Elizabeth Scroggin and Neal Gale as the nominees for the Pennsylvania ballot and later substituted the Hawkins-Walker ticket.
The court found that Mr. Scroggin failed to submit the paperwork in person and therefore negates the substitute candidate as well.
“That defect was fatal to Scroggin’s nomination and, therefore, to Hawkins’ substitution,” the court said.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court handed down a similar ruling Monday, jettisoning Mr. Hawkins and Ms. Walker from the ballot on a technicality.
Michael O’Connell, a Republican Party strategist in Pennsylvania, also said it was debatable whether Green Party candidates take votes from Democrats.
“If you’re protesting, you’re going to find somebody else or you’re going to write in whatever floats your boat that Tuesday morning,” he said.
Still, he didn’t rule out the possibility that the Green Party vote could matter in a tight election contest such as the one shaping up in Pennsylvania.
“Anything that shifts the dynamic a little bit could matter,” Mr. O’Connell said.
In 2016, Green Party nominee Jill Stein captured enough of the vote to account for Mrs. Clinton’s narrow losses in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
She won 0.8% in Pennsylvania and 1% in Wisconsin, while Mrs. Clinton lost both by 0.7%.
Mr. Trump redrew the electoral map in 2016 by putting Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the Republican column for the first time in a generation. Those states are now the central battleground in Mr. Biden’s quest to make Mr. Trump a one-term president.
Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said the rulings were justified but also likely inconsequential for the Trump-Biden contest.
“Green Party candidates barely register in the polls, so the rulings don’t much matter one way or the other,” he said.
Liberal groups cheered the court’s decisions on mail-in voting.
“Our commonwealth is stronger when every eligible voter can participate in an accessible, safe, and secure election. Today’s Supreme Court decision will help ensure Pennsylvania voters can vote the way they want to, and have their voices heard, in November,” said Suzanne Almeida, interim executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania.