Pennsylvania Republicans filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court, alleging that election workers in Montgomery County north of Philadelphia were counting mail ballots early and allowing voters to “cure” ballots with problems.
An expedited hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at 9 a.m. in Pennsylvania Eastern District Court in the case filed by Republican U.S. congressional candidate Kathy Barnette and Clay Breece, chairman of the Republican Committee in neighboring Berks County.
At issue are at least 1,200 “spoiled” ballots that arrived before Oct. 30 at the Montgomery County Board of Elections. The ballots had signature problems, or lacked a secrecy sleeve, which election workers could determine without opening the envelopes.
Election workers were not allowed to start opening envelopes and canvassing mail-in ballots before 7 a.m. on Election Day.
Election staff members were contacting voters with spoiled ballots and telling them that they needed to come to the county and either fix their ballot, or vote in person on Tuesday, the suit alleges.
It also claims that Montgomery County is treating problem mail-in ballots differently than Berks County, where bad ballots aren’t counted.
“Pennsylvania voters should not be treated differently based on the county where they are required to vote,” wrote Andrew Teitelman, the lawyer who filed the suit.
The suit also complains that because of COVID-19 health protocols, poll watchers are being constrained to “a tiny holding pen at the edge of the room,” or “relegated to a remote ‘overflow room’ that has two 40-inch flat screen televisions.”
President Donald Trump predicted in campaign stump speeches that the vote in Pennsylvania would not be completely tabulated by Tuesday night, and promised to take the fight to the courts. The Trump administration sued and lost over signature matching on mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania.
Joe Foster, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee, told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday that staff members at polling places always have helped voters make sure they are casting their ballots correctly.
Officials were seeing more mail-in ballots this year because of the pandemic, and officials weren’t “overstepping” when they contacted voters, regardless of party, Foster said.
Kelly Cofrancisco, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County, said the process for contacting voters with problem ballots without opening them was “sound.”
“Our process in no way takes the place of the procedures that are followed as part of the canvass of ballots, and at no point prior to canvass is a determination made on whether a ballot will or will not be accepted,” Cofrancisco said.
“We believe in doing whatever we can to afford those who have legally requested and returned a ballot a fair opportunity to have their vote count.”
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