A federal judge rejected an attempted lawsuit by President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign seeking to force the city of Philadelphia to allow poll watchers into its early voting offices.
The Trump campaign threatened legal action against Philadelphia after campaign-sanctioned poll watchers had been turned away from the city's satellite offices, where voters can register, request a mail-in ballot, and drop off completed mail-in ballots. In a legal battle ending on Saturday, lawyers for the city of Philadelphia successfully argued that because satellite offices are not official voting locations like polling places, poll watchers are not permitted under state law to observe activities there.
In a Sept. 29 letter to the Commissioners of the Philadelphia County Board of Elections, Trump campaign attorney Linda Kerns claimed that the Board “denied, and continues to deny the Campaign its statutory right to have watchers observe the voting process.” Trump also alluded to the turning away of poll watchers during the first presidential debate, remarking that “bad things happen in Philadelphia."
Elected officials have expressed concern that poll watching, particularly at satellite offices, could easily become a justification for voter intimidation. The Trump Campaign has encouraged supporters to volunteer as poll watchers, boasting a trove of over 50,000 poll watchers across battleground states.
In Pennsylvania, Democrats have cast more than 75% of early ballots, and the majority of mail-in voters in the state are Democrats. Philadelphia's satellite offices, which facilitate mail-in voting, have become a lightning rod for criticism from Trump and his supporters, who allege concerns over voter fraud — despite no voting actually taking place at those locations.
Philadelphia plans to open 15 new satellite elections offices and is opening two additional permanent offices.
U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan, a Trump appointee, rejected the lawsuit in a statement written to “dismiss all claims in the case," Philly Voice reported. The lawsuit was also rejected by Philadelphia Judge Gary Glazer on Friday in an opinion holding that Pennsylvania law does not protect poll workers’ rights to observe from inside election offices.
Glazer stated that poll watchers can be sent as campaign representatives to monitor polling locations but are not required to be allowed to watch early voting locations or satellite elections offices, Philly Voice reported.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro celebrated the decisions in a series of tweets, writing on Oct. 9 that the rulings make it “clear, yet again, that the President’s wild claims don’t hold up in the court of law.”
Shapiro added that the Trump campaign’s claims directly contradicted Pennsylvania state law, which he wrote does not allow poll watchers inside election satellite offices.
The Trump Campaign has also unsuccessfully filed lawsuits to limit the number of mail-in ballot drop boxes and require signature analysis for mail-in ballots.
Pennsylvania is a key battleground state that could decide the 2020 election, according to FiveThirtyEight. Both campaigns have redirected spending towards campaign efforts in Pennsylvania, with candidate Joe Biden visiting the city of Erie just two days ago.
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