Judge Rejects GOP Suit Over Poll Watcher Rules

In Pennsylvania, poll watchers can perform their duties only in the county in which they live. The GOP failed to change that rule.

Election Day in Philadelphia  in 2010 | Photo by AP/Matt Rourke

Election Day in Philadelphia in 2010 | Photo by AP/Matt Rourke

A judge has rejected an argument from Republicans that asked for the state’s poll-watching rules to be overturned. U.S. District Judge Gerald Pappert said that there is no constitutional right to poll watching, and rejected a lawsuit the Pennsylvania Republican Party had filed against the state.

Before 2004, Pennsylvania law said certified poll watchers could only watch the returns in their districts. That year, state lawmakers amended the election code to allow poll watchers to perform their duties anywhere in the county in which they were registered to vote. A 2015 bill in Harrisburg to allow poll watchers to work anywhere in the state did not pass; with this lawsuit, Republicans attempted to push it through the courts instead.

State Republicans were hoping to overturn the law in an attempt to flood Philadelphia with poll watchers and disrupt the election here. “Plaintiffs’ counsel was reticent to admit the extent to which suspected voter fraud in Philadelphia motivates their request for an injunction,” Judge Pappert wrote in his decision. “In their Complaint, however, Plaintiffs cite the Republican Party’s ’interest in having its poll watchers monitor the polls within Philadelphia County to ensure the integrity of the vote.’”

Wawa enthusiast Donald Trump has said, several times, the election will be stolen from him in Philadelphia. White supremacists unconvincingly say they’ve set up hidden cameras in polling places in Philadelphia already in order to discourage turnout. And now, this Republican lawsuit.

But for various reasons, including a delay in filing the petition, Pappert denied their request. “To the extent that the Party wishes to allocate newly available poll watchers on election day, it will of course send them to Philadelphia,” he wrote. “The poll watchers will all need to be properly credentialed in Philadelphia County and they will all seek those credentials between now and election day. With 1,686 election districts in Philadelphia County, the Republican Party alone, not counting any individual candidates, is allotted 5,085 poll watcher positions. Philadelphia County election officials would have just five days to credential any of those positions that are as-yet unfilled.”

The judge also rebutted arguments from state Republicans that poll watchers would be able to ferret out supposed voter fraud. “Plaintiffs’ concerns over potential voter fraud — whether
perpetrated by putative electors or poll workers themselves — appear more effectively addressed by election overseers than poll watchers,” Pappert wrote. “The overseers have greater authority to question voters, and may be within the closed space in which ballots are counted and machines are canvassed, while poll watchers can do neither of those things.”