President Donald Trump’s campaign launched a new legal effort Monday aimed at stopping the certification of election results in Pennsylvania and potentially invalidating thousands of votes cast by mail statewide.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Harrisburg, accuses state and county officials of grossly mismanaging the process of voting by mail and shrouding the tabulation of mail ballots in secrecy by denying Republican monitors sufficient access to inspect them as they were being counted.
Though many of its claims have already been presented and litigated in courts across the state — many which ruled against the president’s campaign — the new 86-page filing presented GOP lawyers' most comprehensive case yet in attempting to undermine public confidence in Pennsylvania’s election results.
“The very officials charged with ensuring the integrity of the election in Pennsylvania have so mismanaged the election process that no one — not the voters and not President Trump’s campaign — can have any faith that their most basic rights under the U.S. Constitution are being protected,” wrote attorneys Ronald L. Hicks Jr. and Carolyn B. McGee, of Pittsburgh, and Linda Kerns, of Philadelphia. “Nothing less than the integrity of the 2020 presidential is at stake in this action.”
Still, with results still pending in three battleground states, even if the campaign were to persuade U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann, an appointee of Barack Obama assigned to hear the new Pennsylvania case, it was unclear it would ultimately change the outcome of the race.
Similar challenges have been filed in Wisconsin, Nevada, and Georgia. But courts in the other pivotal states have thus far rejected campaign efforts to stop vote counting or throw out ballots.
And despite red-hot rhetoric in recent days from the president and many of his surrogates, including Rudy Giuliani, about a Democratic conspiracy to steal the election through fraud, the suit filed Monday was entirely focused on GOP suspicions surrounding Pennsylvania’s process for voting and tallying the results. It did not contain a single allegation of a vote that had been deliberately cast illegally.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, dismissed the latest filing in a statement released by his office Monday and vowed to fight it in court.
“Pennsylvania is going to fight every single attempt to disenfranchise voters,” the statement said. “We will protect this election and the democratic process. Pennsylvania will count every vote, and we will protect the count of every vote.”
By late Monday, Joe Biden led Trump statewide by 0.7 points and roughly 45,000 votes, approximately 1,000 more than Trump’s 2016 margin of victory.
But as he unveiled the lawsuit at a news conference in Washington, Trump campaign lawyer Matt Morgan revealed a new goal for its legal campaign: To convince judges to invalidate enough votes to bring Trump with 0.5 points of Biden in the state’s final tally and trigger an automatic recount under state law.
“We believe that a meaningful review of ballots would discern that there were ballots that were illegally cast,” Morgan said, while not offering any evidence to support that theory.
The lawsuit — brought on behalf of the campaign and two Pennsylvania voters from Fayette and Lancaster Counties — argues efforts to implement a new state law allowing mail voting for anyone who preferred it were chaotic and in many cases violated the state’s election code.
Lawyers say the result was a two-tiered system that favored voters in Democratic-leaning counties who chose to cast their ballot by mail over those in GOP strongholds who voted in-person on Election Day.
Just over a third of the Pennsylvania’s 6.7 million votes were cast by mail, with Democrats submitting nearly three times as many mail ballots as Republicans.
The suit names as its defendants Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar as well as election officials in six Democratic-leaning counties, including Philadelphia, Allegheny, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware.
Those counties, many of which broke decisively for Biden and helped him clinch the win, have been home to many of the Trump campaign’s complaints repurposed in Monday’s lawsuit.
Among them: the fact that some — but not all — Pennsylvania counties alerted voters whose mail ballots had deficiencies, such as missing signatures or secrecy envelopes, and allowed them to either correct those mistakes or cast provisional ballots at the polls on Election Day.
Read the lawsuit:
Despite guidance from Boockvar encouraging all of the state’s 67 counties to provide such warnings to voters whose ballots were in danger of being disqualified due to technicalities, several Republican counties opted not to do so.
In their filing Monday, GOP lawyers argued that voters in those counties were subjected to a different set of rules than in counties that followed that advice, like Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties, which have offered absentee voters the same opportunities to correct their mistakes in several prior elections.
Similar claims by Republicans were dismissed at a state appellate court last week.
In his news conference Monday, Morgan incorrectly stated that only Democratic-leaning counties followed those procedures to alert voters who mail ballots were in danger of being disqualified. In fact, officials in GOP strongholds including York County, where Trump led Biden by 25 points as of Monday, have said they also took steps to ensure those voters could cast a ballot that would be counted.
Monday’s suit also broadened its complaints about the level of access granted to GOP monitors throughout the vote-counting process.
So far, the campaign has focused most of its ire on that front on Philadelphia, where Trump campaign observers have complained that they’ve been kept too far away from where votes are being counted to meaningfully oversee the process.
Originally, they said, both Republican and Democratic monitors were kept behind waist-high metal barriers anywhere from 13 to more than 100 feet from tables at the Pennsylvania Convention Center where votes were being tallied.
The suit Monday lodged similar claims against election administrators in Delaware County, where, according to the suit, observers for both parties were denied access to a backroom counting area for several days, prompting a local court to intervene.
Once the judge ordered they be let in, the suit said, the monitors were only granted access for five minutes every two hours during the process.
Delaware County officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on that allegation Monday night.
The Trump campaign won a victory on the issue in Commonwealth Court last week, when a judge ordered Philadelphia elections officials to allow monitors within six feet of the counting process.
But in the suit Monday, Trump lawyers maintain that the city failed to fully comply. It said that while observers were moved closer to some tables where votes were being counted, they were still stationed far more than six feet from others.
City officials have maintained that their setup fully complied from the start with state law, which makes no mention of how close monitors must be allowed to the people counting the votes.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear their case.
As for the new federal suit, neither Boockvar nor officials for the six defendant counties had filed responses Monday evening and Brann, the judge overseeing the case, had not yet set a date for a hearing.
But at their Washington news conference, Trump’s staffers, including White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, hoped that just asking questions was enough for now to shake the public’s faith in the vote.
“Ask yourself this: What are Pennsylvania Democrats hiding?” she said. “Why can’t observers simply observe the count.”
Jamie Martines and Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA contributed to this article.