Breaking: Federal Court Rejects PA GOP Efforts to Send Poll Watchers to Different Counties to Look for Voter Fraud

Under Pennsylvania law, poll watchers must be from the same county in which they are registered to vote. Republicans failed to change that law in the legislature, and the PA Republican party filed a federal lawsuit seeking to make the change.

When the suit was filed, I indicated I thought it had little chance of success.

And now a federal district court has issued this 28 page opinion rejecting the challenge.

Part of the reason is timing (laches, Purcell principle): “There was no need for this judicial fire drill and Plaintiffs offer no reasonable explanation or justification for the harried process they created.”

The court also rejected the argument that relief was necessary to stop voter fraud which would dilute the vote: “Plaintiffs correctly note that ‘a free and fair election requires ballot security.’ (Id.) While this statement is uncontroversial, the Plaintiffs’ preoccupation with the role of poll watchers to deter purported voter fraud disregards other aspects of the regulatory framework the Commonwealth designed to ensure ballot integrity and thus prevent vote dilution.”

Plaintiffs have not shown that Section 2687(b) burdens their fundamental right to vote or in any way limits their range of choices in the voting booth. The individual voters who bring this case along with the Republican Party are not hindered in their exercise of the franchise: unlike the plaintiff in Burdick, where the State of Hawaii banned write-in voting, Burdick, 504 U.S. at 430, Plaintiffs here may cast ballots for whomever they wish; they are also free to serve as poll watchers in the counties in which they are qualified electors if appointed by the party or a candidate. Indeed the Plaintiffs acknowledge that there is no individual constitutional right to serve as a poll watcher, (Hr’g Tr. 175:17–176:1), but rather the right is conferred by statute. Under that statutory right, an individual may serve as a poll watcher only if appointed to do so by a candidate or the party—unaffiliated individuals with concerns over ballot integrity are not authorized to monitor the polls uninvited. See 25 P.S. § 2687(a). The Republican Party is similarly unable to demonstrate a burden on its rights to equal protection and due process—it points to no polling place that Section 2687(b) prevents it from staffing with poll watchers.

The court also rejected other arguments such as a First Amendment right to engage in poll watching, and found that plaintiffs would suffer no irreparable harm and that an injunction would not be in the public interest.

If the PAGOP appeals, I don’t expect they will do any better up the food chain.

[This post has been updated.]

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