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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

No Injunction for Republican Poll Watchers

     PHILADELPHIA (CN) — A federal judge slammed Republican poll watchers for waiting until the 11th hour for an injunction to cross county lines in Pennsylvania on Election Day.
     "Because they have unreasonably delayed in [seeking this extraordinary remedy], and because they cannot satisfy any of the requirements necessary for the grant of injunctive relief, the court denies the motion," U.S. District Judge Gerald Pappert wrote Thursday.
     The Pennsylvania Republican Party had filed their lawsuit late last month, taking aim at a state residency requirement that says poll watchers can only observe poll sites in their county of residence.
     For Republicans who are particularly outnumbered in urban communities, this means that poll watchers will have inadequate representation during the Nov. 8 election.
     None of Philadelphia's 66 voting wards are majority-Republican.
     The GOP's lawsuit hinged on its claims that poll watchers provide an essential service in the election process by preventing voter fraud.
     Yet Pappert found that this argument overlooks the role of court-appointed election overseers.
     "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," according to the 28-page ruling.
     State election law provides for the appointment of two overseers from each election district by the Court of Common Pleas.
     Election Overseers are allowed inside the space where polling takes place, while poll watchers are not. Overseers also have the additional privilege of challenging voters and interrogating them and their witness "under oath in regard to his right of privilege," according to the code.
     Concerns about voter fraud are also widely overblown, the court found.
     "Their vote-dilution theory is based on speculation that fraudulent voters may be casting ballots elsewhere in the commonwealth and the unproven assumption that these alleged instances of voter fraud would be prevented by the affected poll watchers were they not precluded from serving at those locations," the opinion states.
     Refusing to grant an injunction, Pappert noted that the primary purpose of such relief is to maintain the status quo. The Republicans here meanwhile are seeking mandatory relief, so "the burden on the moving party is particularly heavy," according to the ruling.
     Ultimately the GOP failed to meet this burden.
     "Plaintiffs' counsel was reticent to admit the extent to which suspected voter fraud in Philadelphia motivates their request for an injunction," Pappert wrote. "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.'"
     Pappert also rejected the Republican's argument from their minority status in Philadelphia. "The party could staff the entirety of the poll watcher allotment in Philadelphia county with just 4.1% of the registered Republicans in the county," he wrote.
     The residency-requirement law "in no way bars the party from staffing every election district with the allotted number of poll watchers," the ruling continues.
     An injunction, therefore, is not "the only way of protecting [them] from harm," wrote Pappert.
     Neither the GOP nor state Secretary Pedro Cortes returned a request for comment.

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