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Another election lawsuit in Pennsylvania bites the dust

Another lawsuit aimed to prevent election officials from using new methods to help voters and protect staff during the pandemic has been tossed out of court.

Early voting outside City Hall in Philadelphia on Oct. 8.
Early voting outside City Hall in Philadelphia on Oct. 8.Read moreAstrid Rodrigues / Staff

Another day, another judge tossing out a lawsuit attempting to curtail the efforts of Pennsylvania election officials to overcome the challenges of voting in a pandemic.

This time, it was The Thomas More Society being shown the door by a federal judge in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The Chicago-based conservative nonprofit, which usually advocates to restrict abortion access, sued Philadelphia, Delaware County and Centre County for accepting grants to help pay for new approaches to voting and protections for staffers.

President Donald Trump’s campaign, the Republican Party, and supporters have blanketed city, state, and federal courts with similar efforts. Those lawsuits failed, too.

Clout wonders if these suits are filed in pursuit of legal victory, or just to prompt suspicions about the integrity of the presidential election. U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann rejected a request to prevent the grant money from being spent, ruling the suit offered no proof of any harm to anyone.

The Thomas More Society has filed more than 20 lawsuits against election officials in eight states for accepting grant funding from The Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), also a Chicago-based nonprofit, with deep pockets thanks to $350 million in donations from Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.

Phill Kline, the man leading the legal charge, insisted local officials can’t accept those grants and that the money was flowing to areas where “progressive” voters are numerous, leaving out conservatives.

Brann pointed to a serious flaw in that logic with his ruling Wednesday evening. CTCL has given grants to 18 Pennsylvania counties, 11 of which supported Trump for president four years ago. Five of those counties backed Trump by a margin of two to one.

The counties sued by the Thomas More Society were carried by Hillary Clinton four years ago.

Kline complains that CTCL has not disclosed where all of its grants have been issued. That’s a fair point. CTCL did not respond to Clout’s hails this week, seeking that information. CTCL plays into a conspiratorial narrative with its silence.

We know Philly got $10 million to help open more polling places and satellite elections offices, install mail ballot drop boxes and new equipment to speed up the counting of those ballots. Local election officials took ridiculous heat for that.

Kline claims CTCL is engaged in the politically motivated “privatization of elections." That argument also has a key flaw. The grants are agreements with government agencies that are required by law to be transparent.

Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post last week that any claim of a “partisan agenda” behind his donations is false.

Kline, a former attorney general in Kansas who now teaches at Liberty University, had his law license indefinitely suspended seven years ago after he was accused of misconduct in criminal investigations he launched against abortion providers. He denies any wrongdoing.

The Pennsylvania lawsuit lists as plaintiffs three voters, eight of the most conservative Republicans in the state House, and three Republicans seeking U.S. House seats that represent Philadelphia.

The Thomas More Society is now mulling an appeal. Kline said the nonprofit’s request to stop grant money spending had already been rejected by at least five judges in other states.

Environmentalists court ticket-splitters in Bucks County

Are you a “ticket-splitter” in Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District? Then the Environmental Defense Fund has probably already turned up in your mailbox.

The group’s Super PAC, EDF Action Fund, is sending mailers urging voters to support U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican seeking a third term, along with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

EDF says the effort is “narrowly targeted to ticket splitters,” based on polling and modeling with “a smaller group of independent and Democratic leaning voters who tend to skew younger” and like both candidates. The district covers Bucks County and part of Montgomery County.

Christina Finello, Fitzpatrick’s Democratic challenger, has been keen to link him to Trump, who is deeply unpopular in the district. Polling has found voters less likely to support Fitzpatrick if they think he backs Trump’s legislative agenda.

Fitzpatrick has twice told Clout he will decide whether to vote for Trump or Biden on Election Day.

His race makes clear how challenging it can be to be a self-described moderate in a deeply divided partisan electorate.

Andy Meehan, a Trump enthusiast easily defeated by Fitzpatrick in the Republican primary, vows to have “an independent group of pro-Trump conservative Republicans” manning polling places on Nov. 3.

Meehan said his group will be urging voters to write in the name of an alternative candidate for Congress, since Fitzpatrick wrote in Mike Pence’s name for president for his 2016 ballot.

“Be like Brian,” Meehan said with a laugh, pushing an effort that could benefit Finello.

Quotable vs. Quotable:

Four or five months ago when we started this whole thing because you know before the plague came in, I had it made. I wasn’t coming to Erie. I mean I have to be honest, there’s no way I was coming. I didn’t have to."

— President Donald Trump, speaking at a rally in Erie Tuesday.

The president spent some time in Erie last night and apparently he complained about having to travel here. And then he cut the event short. Poor guy. I don’t feel that way. I love coming to Pennsylvania.”

— Former President Barack Obama, during a Philadelphia Biden rally Wednesday.