Trump versus Pennsylvania

Wayne solicitor on the president’s lawsuit with PA

Posted 7/28/20

HONESDALE, PA — President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign recently filed suit against the state of Pennsylvania. In the wake of the commonwealth’s historic primary election, and …

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Trump versus Pennsylvania

Wayne solicitor on the president’s lawsuit with PA


HONESDALE, PA — President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign recently filed suit against the state of Pennsylvania. In the wake of the commonwealth’s historic primary election, and in the run-up to what’s sure to be an abnormal General Election, the president’s campaign is suing the PA Department of State and all 67 counties over how Pennsylvania runs its elections.

At the tail end of 2019, PA updated its election code for the first time since 1937. The updated code eased a number of deadlines and, most significantly, allowed residents to vote through the mail. Voting by mail is a partisan issue: Democrats tend to advocate strongly for it, and Republicans tend to oppose it vehemently.

There are two primary arguments against mail-in voting: that it’s conducive to voter fraud and that it will unfairly benefit Democrats. Neither is well-founded according to the numbers. While there have been schemes to sway elections through mail-based voter fraud, they are easily foiled by election officials who can spot such statistical abnormalities. And according to a working paper from Stanford University’s Institute for Economic Policy Research, vote-by-mail options increase voter participation and does so for both major parties equally.

Mail-in voting was hugely popular in PA this year, with the primary election falling in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic. Counties throughout the commonwealth set up remote ballot drop-boxes to further make it easier for residents to vote.

The Trump reelection campaign has alleged that these remote, “unsecured” drop-boxes were unconstitutional. “Defendants have sacrificed the sanctity of in-person voting at the altar of unmonitored mail-in voting and have exponentially enhanced the threat that fraudulent or otherwise ineligible ballots will be cast and counted in the forthcoming General Election,” the lawsuit reads.

The suit also takes issue with some counties that counted mail-in ballots that were sent in without “secrecy envelopes”—unmarked envelopes inside mailing envelopes to keep voters anonymous. The president’s campaign is additionally fighting PA’s current rule that poll watchers can only work in their county of residence, arguing that they should have jurisdiction in a wider region.

Last week, Wayne County’s newly-appointed solicitor, and former commissioner, Wendell Kay, commented on the lawsuit for the first time. He said that Wayne County’s goal with each election is to prevent the disenfranchisement of its residents.

“The policy in Wayne County has always been to enfranchise, or to allow people to vote, and not to look for reasons to disallow their votes,” Kay said.

In keeping with that policy, Wayne County set up a drop-box for mail-in ballots at the front of the courthouse in the weeks leading up to this year’s primary. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, all county facilities were essentially closed to the public. The county set up the courthouse drop-box so that residents who wanted to ensure that their ballots did not get lost in the mail could still hand-deliver their ballots themselves. The drop-off location was always monitored by a sheriff’s deputy.

Kay also noted that, in Wayne County, if residents mistakenly mailed in ballots without using the secrecy envelopes, the county would tend to still count those ballots so as to not suppress anybody’s right to vote.

In recent Wayne County history, allegations of voter fraud are rare, and proven instances of fraud are nonexistent, Kay said. According to the county’s election data between 2008 and 2020, there have been more than 180,000 ballots cast in primary and general elections. Allegations of voter fraud have been made against three people. When the county’s Bureau of Elections investigated these cases, they found no reason to disallow any of the three ballots in question.

“Although I was a history major, even I can do that math... in Wayne County over the last 12 years, we had one challenge for every 60,000 votes,” Kay said. “That’s because we have a very professional staff that knows what they’re doing, we have poll workers who are well-trained and dedicated and we have a board of commissioners who realizes that if we don’t get the election part of what we do right, very little else of what we do matters.”

In what appears to be a direct counter to the president’s campaign, the PA Democratic Committee has also filed suit against the same group of defendants. Conversely, though, the committee is suing to expand the very measures that Trump’s campaign wants to mitigate. Democrats are looking to maintain the poll-watcher rules, to accept all ballots without the secrecy envelopes and to expand the deadline for mail-in ballots to be counted one week after polls close, as long as envelopes are postmarked by Election Day.

No matter which side wins in court, PA’s General Election seems bound to operate under new rules and regulations come November.

Kay said that Wayne County has an attorney on standby to represent its interests—if that becomes necessary—in the Western District of Pennsylvania, where the original lawsuit has been filed. But for now, he said that the county is watching and waiting for direction from the capital.

“Generally speaking, we just look for direction from Harrisburg as to how to conduct these elections; we are rule followers,” he said. “As of right now, we are watching and monitoring all of these legal actions with great interest... hoping that the court, whichever one it is, will give us clarity for November.”

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