Pennsylvania Could Be 'Florida of 2020' With Post-Election Day Court Battles, Lawyers Warn

Pennsylvania, one of the most hotly contested battleground states, could be the "Florida of 2020" when it comes to court battles on or after Election Day, lawyers have warned.

A number of court decisions have determined how the state's voters can cast their ballots in November's election amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

But some lawyers believe these may not be enough to prevent a flood of legal challenges on Election Day and afterward, which could prevent the state's counties from meeting the deadline to certify their election results on November 23.

Matthew Haverstick, a lawyer based in Philadelphia who has argued election-related cases, told Spotlight PA that delays from litigation could mean Pennsylvania becomes "ground zero" in determining the outcome of the presidential election.

"I have a feeling we are going to be the Florida of 2020," Haverstick added, referencing the recount in the 2000 presidential election. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to end the recount, leading to George W. Bush's win over Al Gore.

Haverstick added to Newsweek that changes in Pennsylvania's mail-in voting laws have led to "a lot of confusion" for voters and election workers alike.

"I think this confusion will stretch all the way into canvassing, which inevitably will lead to litigation. Given Pennsylvania's importance to the national electoral outcome, it's hard for me to see how litigation here won't have an outsized impact," he said.

Suzanne Almeida, the interim executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, a nonpartisan organization that advocates expanding access to voting, told Newsweek that the "pattern of litigation" seen in the state in recent months is unlikely to end with Election Day.

"We know that Pennsylvania is certainly in the center of the bullseye when it comes to this election. With new voting laws, and a focus from both national campaigns, everyone is fighting for the state's voters. And we don't expect that to stop on Election Day," Almeida said.

"We have already seen a pattern of litigation from both parties, but particularly President Trump's campaign where they are attempting to use the courts to clarify or in some cases rewrite election law in Pennsylvania," she added.

"But at the end of the day the important thing is that every single vote counts and that voters have confidence in the result—whatever it is."

Sarah Brannon, the managing attorney of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, agreed that the "unprecedented" amount of election-related litigation in the state could stretch beyond Election Day.

"This year to date, it certainly true that there has been an unprecedented amount of litigation related to election administration in Pennsylvania," she told Newsweek.

While Brannon said she's hopeful things run smoothly, "given the volume of litigation to date, it seems possible that there will be additional litigation in Pennsylvania following the Election, and we are planning to be prepared as needed."

Ben Geffen, staff attorney at the Public Interest Law Center in Philadelphia, noted it is hard to predict what could happen as there could be unforeseen glitches, for instance, that lead to uncertainty about the results.

Nevertheless, he told Spotlight PA he believes "there are a lot of lawyers who are girded for battle."

Philadelphia's top elections official recently warned of electoral chaos in the state after a court decision that requires counties to throw out mail-in ballots returned without secrecy envelopes—so-called "naked ballots." Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa Deeley said the ruling would lead to "significant post-election legal controversy."

Last month, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court extended the deadline to receive mail-in ballots in order to be counted by three days and also upheld the use of ballot drop boxes and satellite election offices.

The high court, which has a Democratic majority, also ruled that ballots with illegible postmarks, or those without postmarks, will also be counted, as long as there is no indication they were mailed after Election Day.

The court is yet to resolve a matter over whether mail-ballots where a voter's signature doesn't match the one on their registration should be counted. Partisan lawsuits over the state's poll-watching restrictions are also pending.

But while the courts have played a role in clarifying the state's mail-in voting law, the biggest challenge could be verifying and counting the record number of ballots expected to be cast by mail in time.

According to the U.S. Elections Project, more than 2.7 million mail ballots were requested and at least 680,000 have been returned so far.

The GOP-controlled state legislature has so far refused to allow local election offices to start processing those ballots before November 3, meaning the count could continue for days afterward, if not longer.

Meanwhile, polling shows a tight race in the state, which President Donald Trump won narrowly in 2016.

FiveThirtyEight, a polling and political analysis website, recently described Pennsylvania as the "single most important state of the 2020 election." According to the website's presidential forecast, Pennsylvania is "by far the likeliest state" to provide either Trump or Democratic challenger Joe Biden with the decisive Electoral College vote.

This article has been updated with comments from Sarah Brannon and additional comments from Matthew Haverstick.

A man walks past a partially ripped sign stating "VOTE MAKE A PLAN" on October 17, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mark Makela/Getty Images

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