A lawsuit by President Donald Trump's campaign seeking to block Pennsylvania counties from using drop boxes to collect mail-in ballots was put on hold Sunday by a federal judge who said state courts should have a chance to decide the matter first.
U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan in Pittsburgh granted a request from the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations to abstain from ruling on the matter, at least for now, while several related cases play out in state court. Ranjan said the Trump campaign could ask to revive the case if the state court matters take too long.
"After carefully considering the arguments raised by the parties, the Court finds that the appropriate course is abstention, at least for the time being," Ranjan said. "The Court will apply the brakes to this lawsuit, and allow the Pennsylvania state courts to weigh in and interpret the state statutes that undergird Plaintiffs' federal constitutional claims."
Ranjan had previously ordered the Trump campaign to hand over evidence backing its claim that the planned shift to mail-in voting in Pennsylvania as a result of the coronavirus pandemic would lead to massive fraud. On Friday, the campaign submitted almost 300 documents to the ACLU purporting to back up the claim, though the ACLU says none of them related to election fraud involving drop boxes or mail-in voting.
"The Trump campaign's claims are based on speculation," ACLU attorney Sarah Brannon said in an interview.
Marc Elias, an election lawyer representing Democratic-linked parties in the case, said in a statement that Trump and the Republicans had hoped to avoid the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which is 5-2 Democratic. About 1.9 million Pennsylvanians have already requested mail ballots this year, compared with 107,000 in 2016, he said.
The campaign's lawsuit aimed to block the state's plan for drop boxes as well as prohibit the counting of ballots that lack a security envelope. The suit also aims to allow so-called poll watchers to observe in-person voting places even if they don't reside in the county, as is required under state law.
Separately, a Trump tweet Sunday about ballot drop boxes received a "public interest" notice from Twitter, which said engagements with the tweet would be limited.
Twitter said Trump’s tweet, which said mail drop boxes “are not Covid sanitized,” made “misleading health claims that could potentially dissuade people from participation in voting.”