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Centre County Named in Trump Election Lawsuit

by on November 10, 2020 1:40 PM

Centre County's Board of Elections is one of eight defendants named in the Trump campaign's latest legal challenge to block Pennsylvania's election result.

The lawsuit alleges that the state's mail-in ballot system created a "two-tiered" system that held in-person voters to a different standard than those who cast their ballots by mail.

Centre County Board of Commissioners Chair Michael Pipe said on Tuesday morning that elections board is focused on finishing the processing about 200 remaining provisional, military and civilian overseas ballots later in the afternoon before the state's 5 p.m. deadline for counties to submit election results.

"Our focus is making sure we finish out today," Pipe said. "Since there have been previous suits naming a multitude of counties in other circumstances we already have a network of solicitors and legal apparatus that we’ve been working with. Our solicitor has been in contact with them and they’re looking at all their options. We have a 5 p.m. deadline to get our official results in. That’s the focus right now."

On Saturday, the Associated Press and major news networks called Pennsylvania and the presidency for Democrat Joe Biden, who currently leads President Donald Trump by more than 48,000 votes in the state. In Centre County, Biden leads Trump 40,049 votes to 36,366. 

 Trump refuses to concede the election and instead has brought lawsuits in several battleground states, largely focused on mail-in ballot processes and party observer access to ballot canvassing.

In the new Pennsylvania lawsuit, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar and the boards of elections in Allegheny, Centre, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Northampton and Philadelphia counties — all of which Biden carried — are named as defendants.

The Trump campaign and two Pennsylvania voters named as plaintiffs are seeking to block Pennsylvania from certifying election results statewide. Alternately, it asks U.S. Middle District Court of Pennsylvania Judge Matthew Brann to prohibit certifying ballots it claims its watchers were prevented from observing during pre-canvassing and canvassing, as well as ballots that were defective and permitted to be fixed in some counties.

The lawsuit alleges "nearly 2.65 million votes were cast through a 'mail-in' process that lacked all of the hallmarks of transparency and verifiability that were present for in-person voters."

It claims "adequate verification" of voter identity was not required for mail-in ballots and that those ballots were counted "largely in secret," with no monitoring — a claim that has already been dismissed by one court after the Trump campaign alleged its observers were denied access to pre-canvassing and canvassing in Philadelphia. It also alleges that some "Democratic-heavy" counties identified mail ballots with defects and allowed voters to fix them so they would count in violation of state election law.

“Voters in Pennsylvania were held to different standards simply based on how they chose to cast their ballot, and we believe this two-tiered election system resulted in potentially fraudulent votes being counted without proper verification or oversight, as well as many voters being disenfranchised simply for casting their votes in-person,” Matt Morgan, Trump campaign general counsel, said in a statement.

The 85-page filing contains no evidence of voter fraud, but rather several allegations. 

Centre County is the subject of three specific allegations. One is that an unnamed poll worker "observed mail-in ballots being improperly spoiled. The workers placed the mail-in ballots returned to the polling place by in-person voters in a bag without writing 'void' on them or otherwise destroying them."

Pipe said the process for handling spoiled mail-in ballots was for them and the voter declaration to be placed in a secure bag and return them to the elections office on Election Night.

"That was the protocol that the judges of elections followed," Pipe said.

A second allegation claims "a poll worker reported that persons appearing at the polls and admitting that they were New Jersey voters, rather than Pennsylvania voters, were nonetheless provided provisional ballots on which to vote."

Provisional ballots are subject to verification of voter eligibility before they can be counted, and the elections board has spent several days in public meetings open to observers processing those ballots.

"The essence of a provisional ballot is to make sure that anybody who comes to vote at least can cast a ballot, but then there’s a strict verification process," Pipe said. "If somebody’s not registered in Centre County and they vote a provisional ballot, it’s not going to count."

The final claim related to Centre County is that the location for pre-canvassing mail ballots in President's Hall at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center did not allow poll watchers to "have meaningful access to observe the canvassing and tabulation process of mail-in and absentee ballots, and in fact, the poll watchers and observers who were present could not actually observe the ballots such that they could confirm or object to the validity of the ballots."

C-NET provided a livestream, that was also recorded, of the mail-in ballot processing room from two angles for 31 hours during which party observers were visible. Department of State guidance stated, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld, that no challenges are permitted during the pre-canvass or canvass of mail-in and absentee ballots.

Centre County Commissioners said on Tuesday they believed the election was handled properly and securely.

"I do think given the time we had, given the resources we had — we had much more ample resources than previous years — we were able to pull off something I think a lot of people thought wouldn’t be possible," Pipe, a Democrat, said. "I think that’s true for all counties across the state. We did the absolute best we could do. Given all that we had — the pandemic, historic turnout — I think we did the best and really exceeded expectations."

Republican Commissioner Steve Dershem said that overall he felt the election went "very well," but that he had issues with last-minute guidance issued by the state department.

"I think we should have had a little bit tighter protocol in place and maybe some direction as to what the dos and don’ts need to be, particularly in the ballot room," Dershem said. "As we look to improve these processes I would almost assure you that there will be much stricter guidelines in place as to what our guidance is, particularly for the poll watchers. I think we do need to improve on a number of things but overall I think it was a fairly accurate count."

The Trump campaign also argued that the state department violated the law by allowing ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 but receivedafter 8 p.m. on Election Day and by 5 p.m. on Nov. 6 to be counted. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld that, but state Republicans have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ordered that ballots received after the election be segregated until the case is heard.

Department of State officials said counties had already been directed to do that. In Centre County, the commissioners affirmed those ballots were segregated.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called the filing "the latest meritless lawsuit to challenge PA’s election, which was overseen by bipartisan officials and was lawful, fair and secure.

"For months, the majority of these lawsuits have been dismissed and found to have no merit by Courts at all levels, and this one is no different," Shapiro wrote on Twitter. "I am confident PA law will be upheld and the will of the people of the Commonwealth will be respected in this election."

Republican leadership in the General Assembly have called for an audit to be conducted before the state's vote totals are certified and on Tuesday several called for it to be legislative-led. 

Gov. Tom Wolf's office responded in a statement that Pennsylvania's election was "free, fair and secure" and that there has been no evidence of fraud.

"Allegations of fraud and illegal activity have been repeatedly debunked and dismissed by the courts," the statement said. "Those attacks against the core values of Americans are intended to undermine our democracy, and we must reject them.

"Election officials at the state and local level, Republican and Democrat, worked tirelessly amid a pandemic so voters could decide this election. In Philadelphia, Allegheny County, and elsewhere, officials are administering the election with the highest degree of transparency. In Philadelphia and several other counties there has been a livestream of the ballot-counting process available for anyone to watch. In all counties all parties have canvass observers throughout the process. Any insinuation otherwise is a lie. Pennsylvania is going to fight every single attempt to disenfranchise voters. We will protect this election and the democratic process. Pennsylvania will count every vote, and we will protect the count of every vote."



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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