As legal challenges fizzle, Pa. GOP reaffirms it will not seek to override popular vote

At 12th and Arch Streets in Philadelphia, protesters from both sides were separated by a line of police. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

At 12th and Arch Streets in Philadelphia, protesters from both sides were separated by a line of police. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Trump campaign continues to wage a series of Pennsylvania legal battles in order to keep its promise of victory alive as the president’s lead in the state evaporates. But by Friday afternoon, the legal warfare looked increasingly irrelevant as Biden’s lead grew.

On Friday, a judge handed the party an indecisive outcome to one of the suits, filed by Republican Congressman Mike Kelly. The GOP congressman sought to block the counting of provisional ballots cast by voters whose mail ballots were disqualified. A judge granted portions of the argument, but ruled only that the ballots in question should be segregated from others and counted later.

A separate federal suit that sought to exclude several dozen deficient ballots cast in Montgomery County was withdrawn by the plaintiff, Republican Congressional candidate Kathy Barnette. A similar lawsuit filed by GOP attorneys in state court that covers similar claims will be heard next Tuesday in Harrisburg.

Another suit, filed by the Trump campaign, challenged a decision by Democratic Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar to extend a deadline for ballot corrections by three days to Nov. 12 for voters whose mail-in votes lacked proof of identification. Ahead of a ruling, a judge in the case ordered the court to segregate and not count any ballots with identification issues that are corrected between Nov. 10 and 12.

The GOP has also continued to dispute a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing mail ballots three additional days to arrive. The nation’s highest court earlier deadlocked on the issue, but the GOP and Trump have petitioned for another review, which is still pending.

The campaign has repeatedly sought to cast doubt on the counting of mailed ballots with other lawsuits throughout the week’s counting process. Trump has announced without evidence that isolated electioneering, tallying delays and legal disagreements were indicative of fraud.

Although Trump observers have been in and out of the facility all week, the campaign has repeatedly gone to court seeking more access. Early on Thursday, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appeared outside the center on Thursday morning with a court order reducing a buffer between an observing area and the counting area from about 20 feet to six.

Trump operative Corey Lewandowski addresses reporters at Pennsylvania Convention Center, where Philadelphia votes are being counted, while armed with what appears to be a court order.
Trump operative Corey Lewandowski addresses reporters at Pennsylvania Convention Center, where Philadelphia votes are being counted, while armed with what appears to be a court order. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“This is the opportunity to shed light on what’s going on inside the building,” said Lewandowski.

After the city went to the state Supreme Court to appeal this change, the Trump campaign filed a new motion in federal court seeking the injunction to halt counting altogether.

The motion was dismissed after the campaign acknowledged that its representatives had been allowed into the facility.

Eventually, the campaign and city election officials agreed to an increase in the total number of observers each campaign could bring into the counting area — 60 apiece.

As of Friday afternoon, the city’s initial appeal before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is still pending.

Some Democratic sources suggested the torrent of lawsuits aimed to raise doubts about the count to the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court or taint part of the larger counting process.

But by nightfall on Friday, Biden’s lead over Trump had crept to 15,000 votes and counting.

Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College, said the odds of contravening official tallies dwindled as Biden’s lead increased.

“If we’re getting up to significant margins for Biden in terms of his gap with the president, it reduces the probability of any legitimate legal challenge having an impact on the matter,” Borick said. “It would be historic, unprecedented … to find a legal intervention to change the outcome.”

As in other states with close races, allied groups summoned Trump supporters to picket places like Philadelphia’s ballot-counting facility and call for a halt to vote counting. By evening, the protest had dwindled and it felt more like a celebration for Philly’s Biden supporters.

Pa. GOP says it will not meddle in electoral outcome

Some conservative commentators have called for more extreme measures, like constitutional provisions that would theoretically allow the state legislature to appoint electors loyal to President Trump and in contravention of the popular vote.

It would be a rare, but not unprecedented, event some election experts warned could happen ahead of the contested election. But despite calls from Republicans for Boockvar’s ouster over the election, a spokesperson for state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said Thursday, for the second time in as many days, that the legislature would not meddle in the awarding of electoral college votes.

“We have said it many times and we will happily say it again,” Corman and House Majority leader Kerry Benninghoff wrote in an op-ed earlier last month. “The Pennsylvania General Assembly does not have and will not have a hand in choosing the state’s presidential electors or in deciding the outcome of the presidential election.”

That said, Corman and other GOP leaders aren’t happy with the way this election played out as they continue to flex whatever muscle they legally can to challenge the vote.

In a press conference Friday afternoon, Corman and Republican House Speaker Bryan Cutler called for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration to audit the election.

It’s not an unprecedented step; the June primary was audited as well. But Corman and Cutler said they’re more concerned than usual about several parts of the Department of State’s management of this week’s process — specifically, Boockvar’s guidance to counties that they should segregate, but could still canvass, mail ballots that come in during the court-approved three-day extension.

The guidance confused counties, Corman said, and led to inconsistent procedures across the state.

“Let me be very clear, I have no knowledge of any voter fraud, I have no knowledge of any misdeeds other than the process,” Corman said. “That is the unfortunate part, because no matter who wins, you’re going to have 50% of the population that’s going to not have faith in the result.”

Corman and Cutler also said they’re unhappy that the State Supreme Court allowed extended ballot acceptance in the first place, believe partisan poll watchers should have been able to watch ballot counting more closely, and are suspicious of the number of provisional ballots cast.

All of those points echo lawsuits or complaints the Trump campaign has also made.

In a statement, Boockvar said she was already planning an audit, and that she believed the election was airtight.

“Pennsylvania counties have been incredibly hard at work canvassing all the ballots to provide accurate results as quickly as possible, following best practices and responsibilities pursuant to state and federal law,” she said.

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