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Trump campaign sues Pennsylvania over mail ballot drop boxes

Jonathan Lai, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

PHILADELPHIA -- The Trump campaign sued Pennsylvania state and county elections officials Monday, saying mail ballot drop boxes are unconstitutional the way they were used in the June 2 primary election and asking a federal court to bar them from use in November.

"Defendants have sacrificed the sanctity of in-person voting at the altar of un-monitored mail-in voting and have exponentially enhanced the threat that fraudulent or otherwise ineligible ballots will be cast and counted in the upcoming general election," says the suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Instances of voter fraud are exceedingly rare, and there is virtually no evidence of successful widespread conspiracy to commit fraud via mail ballots. (An alleged effort in Paterson, New Jersey, last month quickly raised flags, and last week the state attorney general charged four men in the scheme.)

The lawsuit says mail ballot drop boxes violate the state and federal Constitutions because elections officials are making decisions outside of what the law allows, taking the power to make law away from the state legislature. The suit also argues that state and county elections officials set up different rules and policies across the state, creating a patchwork system that violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection.

The Republican lawsuit comes as President Donald Trump has escalated his attacks on voting by mail, raising unfounded claims of voter fraud and invoking conspiracy theories around foreign interference in mail voting. While voting by mail generally has not been shown to benefit one political party over the other, recent evidence suggests the issue has become partisan, and in Pennsylvania most Democrats voted by mail in the primary, while most Republicans voted in person.

Joining the Trump campaign in the lawsuit are the Republican National Committee; Republican U.S. Reps. Glenn Thompson, Mike Kelly, John Joyce and Guy Reschenthaler, all from Pennsylvania; and two Republican voters who want to serve as poll watchers in November. The defendants are Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania's secretary of state, and all 67 counties' boards of elections.

 

The Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections, declined to comment on ongoing litigation.

Mail ballot drop boxes are largely new to the state. Pennsylvania long had a restrictive absentee ballot system in which only about 5% of votes were cast by mail. But a new law allowed any voter to request a mail ballot beginning with this year's primary. The coronavirus pandemic then fueled a massive surge in mail voting.

But it soon became clear that county elections offices were struggling to keep up with voter demand for mail ballots, and counties scrambled to set up drop box locations. Because Pennsylvania law requires mail ballots to be received by county elections officials by 8 p.m. on Election Day, the idea behind the drop boxes was to allow voters to hand deliver their ballots and know they had been received on time.

The lawsuit says this goes against state law because ballots are supposed to be directly delivered to county elections officials.

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