Pennsylvania aims to move election fight to state high court

Mail-in ballot

A voter drops off their mail-in ballot prior to the primary election, in Willow Grove, Pa., Wednesday, May 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Pennsylvania is asking the state’s highest court to use its extraordinary authority to take over another election-related lawsuit with critical questions that it says must be settled as soon as possible in a partisan fight between Democrats and Republicans in the presidential battleground state.

In a Sunday night filing, state lawyers asked the state Supreme Court to take over a case filed last month by the state Democratic Party and currently pending in a lower court.

The defendant is the top election official for Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat.

In many ways, the Democratic Party’s lawsuit is asking state courts to rule the opposite of what President Donald Trump’s campaign and the national Republican Party are seeking in federal court in Pittsburgh.

“These issues are unquestionably of immediate public importance,” the state attorney general’s office wrote in its 60-page filing. “Both voters and election officials need clarity on these critical election issues as soon as possible.”

A lawyer for the state Democratic Party, Kevin Greenberg, declined comment Monday. He has until later this week to respond to the state Supreme Court, which has a 5-2 Democratic majority.

The court filing comes as the Trump administration faces a public backlash over mail disruptions, after Trump frankly acknowledged that he’s starving the Postal Service of money in order to make it harder to process an expected surge of mail-in ballots, which he worries could cost him the election.

It also came three days after Wolf’s administration, citing a warning by the U.S. Postal Service about its delivery times, asked the court in a separate lawsuit to extend deadlines by three days for mail-in ballots to be received in the November election. Leaders of the state House Republican majority are moving to intervene in that lawsuit.

The Democratic Party’s lawsuit asks for a similar extension of the deadline to count mailed-in ballots.

In addition, it asks the court to allow the use of satellite election offices and drop boxes — which Philadelphia and its heavily populated suburbs used in the primary to help relieve the pressure from an avalanche of mailed-in ballots.

It also asks the court to allow mailed-in ballots to be counted if they are returned without a secrecy envelope and to uphold the requirement in state law that poll watchers be registered voters from the county.

The Trump campaign and national Republican Party have sought the opposite.

In a court filing in late July, the Trump campaign and national Republican Party called the state Democratic Party’s lawsuit “in large part a mirror image” of their federal court lawsuit “and a transparent attempt to forum-shop away from federal court and into this court.”

The federal court case is being handled by a judge who is a Trump appointee.

Which way will Pa. vote?

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal