GOP Challenges Poll Watcher Residency Requirement

     (CN) – The Pennsylvania GOP is challenging a provision of the commonwealth’s election law that it says “arbitrarily” restricts poll watchers to serving only in the county in which they live.
     In a complaint filed in the federal court in Philadelphia on Oct. 21, the Republicans say the commonwealth’s residency requirement for poll watchers flies in the face of logic, given that congressional and other election districts do not strictly adhere to county lines, and violates both the Pennsylvania and U.S. Constitutions.
     By way of example, the GOP points to a handful of state House districts.
     For instance, it says, 78th District of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is partially located in Franklin and Bedford Counties, and all of Fulton County.
     “Should a Franklin County voter wish to be a poll watcher in the 78th District, the Election Code bars that voter from participating in the electoral process in every part of that district merely by the happenstance of the voter’s county of residence. The same applies to a voter in that District in Fulton or Bedford County as well,” the complaint says.
     The Republicans argue that part of a poll watcher’s duty is to engaged in protected speech reporting incidents of potential violations of the election code and that Pennsylvania “has no compelling interest in limiting political speech” by imposing a county residency requirement on them.
     Further, it says, “The Commonwealth’s arbitrary exclusion of voters/poll watchers from serving as such in their own legislative district (albeit, across the political line of a county) has real, demonstrable impacts on all Plaintiffs to this action.”
     “As a result of the Commonwealth’s arbitrary restriction on poll watchers, candidates, political parties and political bodies are unjustifiably burdened in their attempts to locate available, qualified registered electors who can serve as poll watchers,” the party says.
     This issue becomes a problem in particular for Republicans in heavily urbanized areas, which are traditionally Democrat-leaning. For example, in Philadelphia County, there are 66 voting wards, none of which contain majority registered Republicans.
     The suit claims that this process in unconstitutional in the way it “arbitrarily and unreasonably distinguishes between voters with in the same electoral district by allowing some, but not others, to serve as poll watchers.”
     The GOP is joined in the suit by Monica Morrill, Ralph Wike II, Helen Banushi, Ronald Ferrance Jr., Joseph O’Hara, Donna Donat, James Caffery and Gayle Michael.
     The named defendant is The Pedro Cortes, the current Secretary of the Commonwealth and de facto chief election officer.
     There is a bill pending in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that would allow registered voters to serve as poll watchers in each of the Commonwealth’s election districts. The bill, House Bill 29, recently passed the State Government Committee via a unanimous, bipartisan vote.
     A representative of the Secretary of Commonwealth’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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