Federal judge rules PA ballot drop boxes can stay

U.S. President Donald Trump walks out the front doors of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after a fourth day of treatment for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to return to the White House in Washington from the hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, October 5, 2020. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

A federal judge has dealt another blow to President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, ruling against a Republican legal action aimed at banning unmanned ballot drop boxes and imposing additional election security measures in Pennsylvania.

Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee argued that drop boxes should be guarded; that signatures on mail-in ballots should be verified through analysis and comparison; and that poll watchers should be allowed to work outside their county of residence.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan, in an opinion published Saturday, said there was no standing for the lawsuit because there’s “insufficient evidence” that fraud will occur in the upcoming election due to the procedures in question.

“While Plaintiffs may not need to prove actual voter fraud, they must at least prove that such fraud is ‘certainly impending,’” Ranjan, a Trump appointee, wrote. “They haven’t met that burden.”

“Plaintiffs essentially ask this Court to second-guess the judgment of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and election officials, who are experts in creating and implementing an election plan,” he added.

Attorney Matthew Morgan, the Trump campaign’s general counsel, said the decision would be immediately appealed to the Third Circuit, which is based in Philadelphia.

“President Trump is winning the fight for a free, fair election in Pennsylvania,” Morgan said in a statement. “We look forward to a swift Third Circuit decision that will further protect Pennsylvania voters from the Democrats’ radical voting system.”

Campaign officials touted a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that outlawed ballot “harvesting,” where absentee ballots are submitted by third parties who are sometimes paid. The GOP views the practice as a breeding ground for corruption.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar issued guidance late last month to local election officials, informing them that ballots must be dropped off by the voter unless the person has a disability, in which case they must sign an authorization.

Ranjan declined to weigh in on whether satellite election offices, which opened Sept. 29 in Philadelphia, should be considered polling places.

The designation would open the sites up to poll watchers. Trump has encouraged his supporters to observe the electoral process and monitor fraud, raising concerns from Democrats about the possibility of voter intimidation.

On Friday, a state court judge in Philadelphia ruled that the offices and drop box locations are not polling places. Trump’s campaign has already appealed that decision.

Ranjan upheld an earlier ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court deeming the residency requirement for poll watchers constitutional.

The state Supreme Court issued the decision last month along with a series of rulings, one of which paved the way for the establishment of satellite election offices.

In Philadelphia, the City Commissioners initially operated seven, but they have since opened locations at the A.B. Day School in Germantown and at the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts in South Philadelphia.

At the offices, voters can apply for their mail-in ballot, receive it, fill it out and return it in one visit. People can also register to vote or drop off their completed ballot.

All of the sites are open from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Friday to Sunday through Election Day.

Ballot drop boxes were also installed Friday outside City Hall and the City Commissioner Office at 520 N. Columbus Blvd.

The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 19, and Oct. 27 is the last day to apply for a mail-in ballot.