Why there's so much focus on Pennsylvania's election courts this week - Technical.ly Philly

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Nov. 4, 2020 3:03 pm

Why there’s so much focus on Pennsylvania’s election courts this week

Trump's legal team is challenging aspects of mail-in voting that will likely add up to more Biden votes.
Legal time.

Legal time.

(Photo by Flickr user Stacy Welsh, used under a Creative Commons license)

Like in many general election years, a lot of eyes are on Pennsylvania right now. Oh, to live in a swing state.

Pennsylvania is among the last to still be counting a good chunk of its ballots from the Nov. 3 election, as it sent out more than 3 million by mail this year, a first for a state which previously had very limited early and absentee ballots. It’s largely due to complications set forth by the pandemic — a mailed ballot would allow a voter to avoid crowded polling places on Election Day.

When Pennsylvania approved these ballots called “no-excuse” absentee mail ballots last fall — meaning any voter can request one without citing a reason — the law didn’t allow officials to begin canvassing mail ballots until polls closed on election night. So while states like Colorado and Florida, who have had the infrastructure to quickly process mail votes in place for years, had speedy results on election night, Pennsylvania will likely be counting for days.

In Philadelphia, where there’s more than a million registered voters, City commissioners are processing tens of thousands of votes an hour.

But President Donald Trump’s team of lawyers is working to get those votes invalidated. He has been for weeks, since he falsely claimed that Pennsylvania was trying to pull off a stolen or rigged election; it’s where his now-famous “bad things happen in Philadelphia” line took hold. On Twitter late last night and early this morning, the president tweeted (again, falsely) that votes shouldn’t be counted after Election Day.

In reality, votes are always being tallied after Election Day, as Lauren Vidas, an Philly-based elections attorney, told Techncial.ly. In any election, there’s a swath of mail-in, absentee and military votes that trickle in days after the election. That’s not fraud, she and election and state officials keep repeating, that’s just how our elections work.

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Vidas was in court yesterday as a legal observer for Protect Our Vote Philly, a nonpartisan nonprofit that works to ensure fair and accurate elections. She goes into more step-by-step detail in this hours-long Twitter thread, but the gist is this: Trump’s legal team has filed motions claiming the City’s operations down at the Convention Center, where thousands of votes an hour are being counted, weren’t allowing for “meaningful observation” by poll watchers. Lawyers allege that those being allowed to watch couldn’t see ballots clearly or hear poll workers.

But the City said that claim of “meaningful” observation is a made-up term, and that for the safety of the ballots and the people processing them (because of the pandemic), poll watchers needed to stay behind the barrier.

A second significant accusation by Trump lawyers is that sharing info with a voter about their ballot — such as if it was received or canceled for some reason — is against election law. It’s pretty unfounded, Vidas said, and a move likely unfavored by the court because voting has been going on in Pennsylvania for nearly six weeks now, and Trump’s people are only taking issue with it now, as Election Day isn’t going as well for Trump as he’d hope.

The basis behind these motions is an attempt to get mail-in ballots, which will likely count heavily toward Vice President Joe Biden, thrown out, for whatever reason.

“The court typically doesn’t allow for these ‘gotcha’ moves,” Vidas said.

Similar challenges are being brought in suburban courts and in Harrisburg Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

“Hearings were scheduled Wednesday in two Election Day lawsuits filed by Republicans, both seeking to prevent voters whose mail-in ballots were disqualified for technical reasons from fixing it or casting a new ballot,” the AP said Wednesday morning.

The challenges by Trump’s team and other GOP officials aren’t totally unfounded or to be ignored, but they’d have a challenge ahead of them to truly disenfranchise millions of voters from having their ballots count, especially after the Supreme Court ruled Pennsylvania had three extra days to count votes (though it could be revised, Vidas said). But right now, it’s likely these teams are trying the “spaghetti strategy,” of throwing a lot of things to a wall and seeing what sticks.

“I don’t want to say no, but I can tell you arguments I saw last night fell very flat very quickly,” Vidas said.

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