The 2020 election seems likely to be decided in court. President Trump has launched several legal actions in states across the nation, and what remains to be seen is how those cases will be received and what results they may determine. One thing is for certain: Trump is not going to go down without a fight.
Pennsylvania saw the most action in various state and federal courts concerning vote counting, especially in Philadelphia. This is in addition to the suit underway at the U.S. Supreme Court, by the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, suing over late ballot counting. The party has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to allow it to intervene in that case and present arguments against counting ballots received after the statutory deadline.
Keystone Back and Forth
Vote deadlines are not the only issue at play in the Keystone State, however; questions have been raised over the transparency of the count. On Thursday, the Republican campaign won an order from a Pennsylvania state judge allowing its election observers to move closer to the action, to within six feet of where the ballots are being handled. They had previously lost a petition for that in a Philadelphia-based lower court. A judge from Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court, an intermediate appellate court, reversed the lower court ruling and granted the campaign’s motion.
Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon ruled that watchers “be permitted to observe all aspects of the canvassing process within 6 feet, while adhering to all COVID-19 protocols, including, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.” Then, the City of Philadelphia’s Board of Elections filed an emergency petition in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, asking that court to overrule the Commonwealth Court. The Board of Elections is controlled by Philadelphia Democrats. The Supreme Court has yet to decide if it will take the case at press time.
The reason proximity is important is that an observer may challenge a signature match on a mail-in ballot. Those watchers need to be able to see the signatures to assess their validity. And so, when the city commissioners who make up the Board of Elections ignored the Commonwealth Court order, the Trump campaign went to federal court Thursday evening to ask for relief there. The city, instead of obeying and implementing the order from the state court, said it was “studying it,” which was what prompted the federal court challenge.
That challenge did not result in a court order but did result in an agreement between the Trump campaign and the Democrats who control the counting process in Philadelphia. The city has a well-earned reputation for corrupt politicians and political actors. When one political party solidly controls an area, corruption costs are reduced, and benefits are incentivized. In Philadelphia, Democrats have controlled both the mayor’s office and the city council since 1952.
The federal judge, Paul Diamond, who was appointed by George W. Bush to the bench, got the parties to agree to stop fighting in court over visual access to the counting process. He then dismissed the Republicans’ complaint without prejudice, meaning they may bring it up again at any moment, should circumstances warrant.
Votes that have already been counted are likely to stay counted. That’s why the campaigns fight so hard, respectively, to keep the counting going or stop it. For Donald Trump, the cost is minuscule and the stakes are existential, so the one safe prediction at this point is that in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, more challenges will issue, and we’ll have to see how the courts rule.