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Pa. State Conf. of NAACP Branches v. Sec’y Pa., 2024 U.S. App. LEXIS 7300 (3rd Cir. March 27, 2024) (Ambro, C.J.).

Pennsylvania, like all other States, has devised a web of rules that qualified voters must follow to cast a ballot that will be counted. Mail-in and absentee voters, for their part, must sign and date the declaration printed on the return envelope containing their mail ballot. The date requirement, it turns out, serves little apparent purpose. It is not used to confirm timely receipt of the ballot or to determine when the voter completed it. But the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that dating the envelope is mandatory, and undated or misdated ballots are invalid under its state law and must be set aside.

We must decide whether federal law nonetheless requires those non-compliant ballots be counted. Section 10101(a)(2)(B) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, called the Materiality Provision, prohibits denial of the right to vote because of an “error or omission” on paperwork “related to any application, registration, or other act requisite to voting,” if the mistake is “not material in determining whether [an] individual is qualified” to vote. Because the date requirement is irrelevant to whether a vote is received timely, the blink response is to believe a voter’s failure to date a return envelope should not cause his ballot to be disqualified. But our role restricts to interpreting a statute, and there we hold that the Materiality Provision only applies when the State is determining who may vote. In other words, its role stops at the door of the voting place. The Provision does not apply to rules, like the date requirement, that govern how a qualified voter must cast his ballot for it to be counted. We reach this conclusion because a contrary approach cannot be reconciled with the text and historic backdrop of the statute, nor cabined to the date requirement while leaving intact other vote-casting rules that serve valid state interests. Accordingly, we reverse the District Court’s decision and remand for further consideration of the pending equal protection claim.