A Philadelphia judge has rejected a lawsuit filed by President Donald Trump’s campaign seeking poll watcher access to satellite voter offices in the city.
The campaign last week said its poll watchers were denied entry to areas where voters were casting ballots, leading Trump to decry “Bad things happen in Philadelphia” during the televised debate against former Vice President Joe Biden.
A few days later the campaign filed suit against the city, claiming “while transparency and accountability are hallmarks of election integrity, the actions of Philadelphia election officials to date have undermined election integrity by shrouding the casting of ballots in secrecy.
“The absence of poll watchers at polling places where registration and voting are occurring threatens the integrity of the vote in elections and denies voters the constitutional right to free and fair public elections under the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions,” the suit adds.
In denying the campaign’s petition, Judge Gary Glazer wrote that Pennsylvania law does not allow such representatives to observe in election offices, a stance held by election lawyers, city officials and the state’s top elections official.
The city’s Board of Elections opened seven satellite offices on Sept. 29, and plans more leading up to election day. At these offices, residents can register to vote, apply for a mail-in ballot, fill it out and turn it in.
On the first day the offices were open, Trump campaign employees sought access to observe voters and employees. They claimed that since ballots were being turned in, the offices were polling places.
State law allows candidates, campaigns and political parties to appoint watchers for polling places. Watchers must be a qualified, registered elector in that district, and must receive a certificate from the county Board of Elections.
In his 14-page ruling, the judge referenced the “Election Code’s rather obtuse language” in determining that the satellite offices were not polling places, and therefore watchers weren’t allowed.
“Given their scope, timing, and purpose, the satellite offices do not constitute polling places where watchers have a right to be present under the Election Code,” Glazer wrote.
“For this court to read into the Election Code the right of watchers to be present in Board of Elections’ offices, which the Legislature did not expressly provide, would be the worst sort of judicial activism,” he added. “This court will not engage in such improper conduct, which would be a clear usurpation of the legislative function.”
Glazer said that the campaign had been invited to tour the satellite offices, and he recommended they do so.
“Individuals who are residents of, or qualified voters registered in, Philadelphia County, and who are also associated with the campaign, may enter the satellite offices to register to vote, apply for their own mail-in ballot, receive it, fill it out in private, and/or drop it off,” he said. “However, they may not linger in the satellite offices indefinitely as ‘watchers’ under the Election Code.”
A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of State said the office would have no comment on the ruling. Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, cheered the decision.
“Today’s ruling makes clear, yet again, that the President’s wild claims don’t hold up in the court of law,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “Voters can have confidence their voice will be heard in this election.”