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Trump and the RNC sued to tighten Pa. voting rules. Pennsylvania Democrats just sued back.

Pennsylvania Democrats fire back less than two weeks after the Trump campaign and RNC sued Pennsylvania over how the November election should be run.

A voter fills out his ballot at Strath Haven High School in Wallingford, Delaware County, during the June 2 primary election.
A voter fills out his ballot at Strath Haven High School in Wallingford, Delaware County, during the June 2 primary election.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party and a group of Democratic politicians have filed a lawsuit in state court to loosen some rules on voting for November, including extending mail ballot deadlines.

They say they want to counter a recent suit by the national GOP and President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign that seeks to bar pandemic-related temporary changes put in place for the June primaries.

The Democrats are asking Commonwealth Court to:

  1. Explicitly allow counties to collect mail ballots at drop boxes, pop-up drop-off locations, or other sites.

  2. Extend the mail ballot deadline so ballots postmarked instead of received by Election Day will be counted.

  3. Require counties to give voters a chance to fix mistakes on their mail ballots.

  4. Count mail ballots missing the internal “secrecy envelope” meant to protect the vote from being seen as it is processed.

  5. Uphold the current requirement that voters can serve as poll watchers only in the county in which they live.

“The primary election showed us that counties need to be creative in handling the challenges presented by the massive influx of mail-in ballot [and] the challenges of COVID-19,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed Friday.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, ordered mail ballots be counted in six counties as long as they were postmarked by the June 2 primary. Trump and his allies argue that mail voting is susceptible to fraud and that only the legislature can decide on such changes.

In addition to the state Democratic Party, the plaintiffs in the latest suit are 15 politicians, almost entirely people of color, both currently in office and those running for election. They include Philadelphia’s U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, State Sen. Anthony Williams, State Sen. Sharif Street, State Sen. Art Haywood, State Rep. Jordan Harris, State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, State Rep. Isabella Fitzgerald, State Rep. Danilo Burgos, State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, and auditor general nominee Nina Ahmad, among others. The defendants are Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat who runs the office overseeing elections in the state, and all 67 county boards of elections.

The lawsuit comes less than two weeks after the Republican National Committee and Trump’s reelection campaign sued Pennsylvania over how mail ballots are collected and counted. That suit asks a federal court to block the use of mail ballot drop boxes, order counties to not count “naked ballots” missing their secrecy envelopes, and allow voters to serve as poll watchers regardless of where they live.

“The RNC and Trump reelection campaign’s efforts to undermine mail-in voting in Pennsylvania is a direct attack on communities across the commonwealth and American democracy,” Street said in a statement.

Rules governing how votes are cast and which ballots are counted can shape election results, especially in a battleground state such as Pennsylvania, which Trump won in 2016 by just 44,000 votes, fewer than 1% of those cast. Reflecting that reality, election litigation is on the rise across the country, including in Pennsylvania, as parties and advocacy groups fight over how the November election should be run.

Much of the litigation focuses on adaptations to the coronavirus pandemic, as officials have struggled to administer elections and many voters prefer to vote by mail instead of in person. In addition, Pennsylvania this year began allowing any voter to use a mail ballot without an approved reason, loosening what was a restrictive absentee voting system.

But voting by mail has become a charged subject, with Trump raising unsubstantiated claims of fraud and invoking conspiracy theories about foreign interference with mail voting.

Studies have shown that voting by mail generally does not benefit one party over the other, but the issue has become highly partisan. In Pennsylvania’s June 2 primary, most Democrats voted by mail while most Republicans voted in person.