Trump Campaign Lawsuit Over Ballot-Counting Access Rejected by Pennsylvania Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania dealt a blow Tuesday to the Trump campaign's legal efforts over the election results.

In a 5-2 decision, the court ruled that the Philadelphia Board of Elections acted correctly in setting up its access rules for canvass observers, who were kept six feet away from ballot tabulation in line with COVID protocols.

While poll watchers were allowed in the convention center where ballots were being counted, the lawsuit from President Donald Trump's campaign sought closer access for observers.

The Trump campaign contended its observers were kept much farther away than 6 feet, in some cases up to 100 feet and not even in the room. Lawyers for the city argued that monitors from both parties were allowed in the room from the start and were subject to the same restrictions.

The intermediate court overturned a decision from the Commonwealth Court, calling the decision "erroneous," and reinstated the trial court's order, writing that "the Board did not act contrary to law" in ordering that representatives maintain a distance from the tabulation, "as the Election Code does not specify minimum distance parameters for the location of such representatives."

The Trump campaign argued that "the ruling is contrary to the clear purpose of the law" and that observers could not watch the vote count in a "meaningful way" due to the distancing rules.

Jenna Ellis, a Trump campaign legal adviser, wrote in a statement shared with Newsweek: "The state legislature specifically acknowledged that massive numbers of mail-in ballots anticipated in the 2020 election requires that both Republican and Democrat watchers must observe the counting in a meaningful way. There is no other reason except fraud to exclude Republicans from actually seeing the ballots close up."

"We are keeping all legal options open to fight for election integrity and the rule of law," Ellis added.

This is one of several lawsuits the Trump campaign has filed in the battleground state. However, this legal challenge would not invalidate any ballots counted and therefore not have an impact on the final outcome of the election in Pennsylvania.

President-elect Joe Biden is projected to win his home state and its 20 electoral college votes by 69,000 votes. His current margin of victory is more than one percentage point.

Philadelphia Poll Watch
A man watches on from the observers area as election workers count ballots at the Philadelphia Convention Center on November 6. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the Philadelphia Board of Elections did not break the law in asking poll watchers to maintain six feet from the ballot count. Chris McGrath/Getty

There are three other Trump campaign lawsuits challenging Pennsylvania's election results.

Of these, one suit aiming to block Pennsylvania's Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar from certifying the election results is the campaign's greatest hope of delegitimizing the state's final vote count. However, the campaign recently amended a version of that lawsuit, dropping its original request that more than 628,000 mail-in and absentee ballots be thrown out. Shortly after, all the remaining attorneys representing the campaign withdrew from the case late Monday and have been replaced by attorney Marc Scaringi, who previously doubted the campaign's legal efforts.

"At the end of the day, in my view, the litigation will not work," Scaringi said on his iHeart Radio talk show on November 7. "It will not reverse this election."

In order for the Trump campaign to be successful in this bid, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann would have to rule in the president's favor before the November 23 deadline for state's results to be certified.

The Trump campaign is also hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will intervene in the validity of late-arriving mail ballots that were originally allotted a three-day grace period. This suit would impact about 10,000 ballots—a number too small to change the results of the presidential race.

The campaign is also disputing individual ballots over technical errors made by voters. The suit is contesting 8,300 ballots in Philadelphia, 2,300 ballots in Allegheny County and 2,251 ballots in Bucks County. Again, this would not constitute enough votes to reverse Biden's 69,000-vote advantage.

Update 17/11/20 5:25 p.m. This story was updated with comments from Ellis.