Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Trump campaign sues Pennsylvania over easier absentee voting

President Trump

The suit echoes the president's unfounded claims that mail-in voting makes life easy for 'fraudsters.'

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump is taking his crusade against voting by mail to a new level: His campaign has gone to court for the first time to combat liberalized absentee ballot rules — in Pennsylvania, a state central to his prospects for re-election.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Pittsburgh, seeks to make the sixth most populous state abandon for November several of the ways it collected and counted mail-in ballots in the primary, alleging the procedures were both unconstitutional and against state law.

Although the Republican Party sued last month in an unsuccessful effort to limit the delivery of mail ballots to everyone in California, and is vowing to spend $20 million or more defending restrictive voting laws that Democrats are challenging in 18 states, Pennsylvania is the first place where the president's campaign has gone on litigious offense.

The "hazardous, hurried and illegal" vote-by-mail system the state instituted for this month's primaries, the lawsuit argues, gives "fraudsters an easy opportunity to engage in ballot harvesting, manipulate or destroy ballots, manufacture duplicitous votes and sow chaos."

The language emulates a barrage of tweets and public comments the president has made in recent weeks, but neither Trump nor his campaign's lawyers have offered any supporting evidence for the claim. His unfounded accusations have made the debate over easing the use of mail ballot rules during the coronavirus highly partisan, even though research shows the practice gives neither side an advantage.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

The lawsuit argues that when officials in about 20 counties decided to provide drop boxes for absentee ballots, they were improperly asserting power belonging to the Legislature and violating the state and federal constitutions. State law says mail ballots must be returned directly to county elections offices. The drop boxes were installed because lawsuits have been unsuccessful in striking down a state law that says ballots must be received by the time the polls close — not just postmarked by then, as in a growing number of states.

The suit also alleges some counties violated state law by counting some mail ballots that did not arrive inside a secrecy envelope or had inappropriate writing on them.

The suit wants the drop boxes abandoned and the envelope rules enforced — and to make the state permit poll watchers to monitor vote counting (including of mailed ballots) outside the counties where they live.

The other plaintiffs are the Republican National Committee, four of the state's GOP members of Congress and a pair of Republicans who want to be poll watchers in November.

The defendants are Kathy Boockvar, the Democratic secretary of state, and all 67 counties' boards of elections.

Pennsylvania's June 2 primary was chaotic, with local media reporting tens of thousands of mail ballots arrived at election offices the week after the primary. Also, thousands more who applied to vote by mail showed up at polls to use provisional ballots because their mail-in ballots did not arrive in time. This prompted Democrtatic Gov. Tom Wolf to issue an executive order extending by a week the deadline for receiving and counting ballots in a handful of urban and suburban counties.

The head of the state Democratic Party called the suit an effort to suppress votes as a campaign tactic, noting her party far outpaced the GOP in getting voters to apply for mail-in primary ballots.

This is the first year Pennsylvanians may vote absentee without providing a specific excuse, part of an extensive rewrite of election law enacted with bipartisan support in Harrisburg last fall. The result was that more than 1.8 million voters asked for a remote ballot and six out of every seven of those people returned them in time. The numbers suggest the share of votes cast by mail statewide in November may go up by an order of magnitude from 2016, when it was just 5 percent.

Trump carried the state's 20 electoral votes last time by 44,000 votes, or less than 1 percent of the votes cast. Recent statewide polling suggests he's in trouble now in the state, which the Democratic nominee won the six previous times.

The president has continuously attacked efforts to expand voting by mail, raising unfounded claims of voter fraud. Some argue the attacks could benefit his campaign by potentially prompting Americans to decline to vote because they believe the system is corrupt.

The Pennsylvania suit is the latest in a multimillion-dollar partisan legal battle over voting rules. Recent decisions in Texas, Arizona and Iowa were a loss for voting rights advocates, while decisions in Virginia and Nevada made mail-in voting easier. The GOP lawsuit in California, which argued Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom overstepped his bounds with his mail-in voting plans, was essentially nullified when the Legislature wrote a law doing just what he wanted.

Read More

Blurred image of an orchestra
Melpomenem/Getty Images

The ideal democracy: An orchestra in harmony

Frazier is an assistant professor at the Crump College of Law at St. Thomas University. Starting this summer, he will serve as a Tarbell fellow.

In the symphony of our democracy, we can find a compelling analogy with an orchestra. The interplay of musicians trained in different instruments, each contributing to the grand musical tapestry, offers lessons for our democratic system. As we navigate the complexities of governance, let us draw inspiration from the orchestra's structure, dynamics and philosophy.

Keep ReadingShow less
David French

New York Times columnist David French was removed from the agenda of a faith-basd gathering because we was too "divisive."

Macmillan Publishers

Is canceling David French good for civic life?

Harwood is president and founder of The Harwood Institute. This is the latest entry in his series based on the "Enough. Time to Build.” campaign, which calls on community leaders and active citizens to step forward and build together.

On June 10-14, the Presbyterian Church in America held its annual denominational assembly in Richmond, Va. The PCA created considerable national buzz in the lead-up when it abruptly canceled a panel discussion featuring David French, the highly regarded author and New York Times columnist.

The panel carried the innocuous-sounding title, “How to Be Supportive of Your Pastor and Church Leaders in a Polarized Political Year.” The reason for canceling it? French, himself a long-time PCA member, was deemed too “divisive.” This despite being a well-known, self-identified “conservative” and PCA adherent. Ironically, the loudest and most divisive voices won the day.

Keep ReadingShow less
Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer testifies at the Democratic National Convention in 1964.

Bettmann/Getty Images

60 years later, it's time to restart the Freedom Summer

Johnson is a United Methodist pastor, the author of "Holding Up Your Corner: Talking About Race in Your Community" and program director for the Bridge Alliance, which houses The Fulcrum.

Sixty years have passed since Freedom Summer, that pivotal season of 1964 when hundreds of young activists descended upon an unforgiving landscape, driven by a fierce determination to shatter the chains of racial oppression. As our nation teeters on the precipice of another transformative moment, the echoes of that fateful summer reverberate across the years, reminding us that freedom remains an unfinished work.

At the heart of this struggle stood Fannie Lou Hamer, a sharecropper's daughter whose voice thundered like a prophet's in the wilderness, signaling injustice. Her story is one of unyielding defiance, of a spirit that the brutal lash of bigotry could not break. When Hamer testified before the Democratic National Convention in 1964, her words, laced with the pain of beatings and the fire of righteous indignation, laid bare the festering wound of racial terror that had long plagued our nation. Her resilience in the face of such adversity is a testament to the power of the human spirit.

Keep ReadingShow less
Kamala Harris waiving as she exits an airplane

If President Joe Biden steps aside and endorses Vice President Kamala Harris, her position could be strengthened by a ranked-choice vote among convention delegates.

Anadolu/Getty Images

How best to prepare for a brokered convention

Richie is co-founder and senior advisor of FairVote.

As the political world hangs on whether Joe Biden continues his presidential campaign, an obvious question is how the Democratic Party might pick a new nominee. Its options are limited, given the primary season is long past and the Aug. 19 convention is only weeks away. But they are worth getting right for this year and future presidential cycles.

Suppose Biden endorses Vice President Kamala Harris and asks his delegates to follow his lead. She’s vetted, has close relationships across the party, and could inherit the Biden-Harris campaign and its cash reserves without a hitch. As Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) suggested, however, Harris would benefit from a mini-primary among delegates before the convention – either concluding at the virtual roll call that is already planned or at the in-person convention.

Keep ReadingShow less