Pennsylvania high court takes up another election lawsuit
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s highest court will take up another election-related lawsuit, it announced Tuesday, this one filed by the state Democratic Party amid a partisan fight over fixing glitches and gray areas in the battleground state’s fledgling mail-in voting law.
Briefs are due Sept. 8, the state Supreme Court said.
The Democratic Party’s lawsuit asks the court to order an extension of Pennsylvania’s Election Day deadline to count mailed-in ballots, a similar request to one in a lawsuit already taken up by the state Supreme Court.
It also asks the court to allow mailed-in ballots to be counted if they are returned without a secrecy envelope, to allow voters to fix problems with their mail-in ballot before it is discarded, and to uphold the requirement in state law that poll watchers be registered voters from the county.
In addition, it asks the court to allow the use of drop boxes — which Philadelphia and its heavily populated suburbs used in the primary to help relieve the pressure from an avalanche of mailed-in ballots — as well as satellite election offices.
Philadelphia and its surrounding counties are planning to use both satellite election offices and drop boxes in the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled Legislature are at a stalemate over some of the issues, with just two months before the election barely two weeks before counties can begin sending out ballots to voters.
To a great extent, they are clashing over how to prevent vast numbers of ballots from being discarded and how to head off the specter of a presidential election result hanging in limbo on a drawn-out vote count in Pennsylvania.
The lawsuit was filed last month by the state Democratic Party and had been pending in a lower court. The defendant, Wolf’s top election official, asked the high court last month to take over the case.
In many ways, the Democratic Party’s lawsuit is asking state courts to rule the opposite of what President Donald Trump’s campaign and the national Republican Party are seeking in federal court in Pittsburgh. That case is in front of a federal judge appointed by Trump.
Trump’s campaign and the national Republican Party opposed the Wolf administration’s move to get the Democratic Party’s case in front of the state Supreme Court, calling it in a court filing “nothing less than a transparent attempt to shop for a favorable forum.”
Trump’s campaign and the national GOP also said the request exceeds the court’s authority to grant and would risk invalidating Pennsylvania’s 10-month-old law that allowed every voter to vote by mail, not just those who met a narrow set of requirements in the state Constitution.
The state Supreme Court has a 5-2 Democratic majority. In Tuesday’s decision, the two Republicans on the court dissented.
The Trump campaign’s lawsuit in federal court is halted until Oct. 5, under an order issued last week.
However, Trump’s campaign has asked the judge to change that date to Sept. 14 and, while the case is pending, to prevent Pennsylvania election officials from counting certain mail-in ballots, including those that are returned through drop boxes or without a secrecy envelope.
In 2016, Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes, or less than 1 percentage point, but he lost badly in the state’s most heavily populated counties, which are the ones largely planning to use drop boxes to help collect mail-in ballots.
Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/timelywriter.