HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) — Handing a loss to the Trump campaign, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled 5-2 Tuesday that Philadelphia followed state law with its protocol for letting election observers watch ballot counting.
Writing for the majority in a 20-page opinion, Justice Debra Todd said Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon incorrectly ruled that election monitors were being kept too far from the vote-counting process at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. A Republican, Cannon said poll watchers could get within 6 feet of counters, rather than the previously designated 15-18 feet away.
“Given that observers are directed only to observe and not to audit ballots, we conclude, based on the witness’s testimony, that the Board of Elections has complied with the observation requirements,” Todd wrote.
The majority opinion largely focuses on a state law that sets out rules for authorized poll watchers to observe ballot counting. The regulation only allows for an authorized observer “to remain in the room” where ballots are being counted. The lack of a specific distance from ballot counters was an intentional omission by state lawmakers, Todd found.
While Pennsylvania General Assembly could have baked in specific distance requirements for poll watchers, it was a “deliberate choice to leave such matters to the informed discretion of county boards of elections,” the opinion states.
Todd noted that Jeremy Mercer, an attorney and poll watching representative of President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, was able to view the entirety of the pre-canvassing and canvassing process at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Election Day.
“Critically, we find the board’s regulations as applied herein were reasonable in that they allowed candidate representatives to observe the board conducting its activities as prescribed under the election code,” Todd wrote.
Justice Thomas Saylor and Sallie Mundy wrote dissenting opinions.
Saylor said he thought the case was moot since canvassing of ballots was mostly completed. Since the state legislature had already signaled it would reexamine election laws, Saylor doubted the court’s ruling “will be of any importance in the future.”
“Finally, short of demonstrated fraud, the notion that presumptively valid ballots cast by the Pennsylvania electorate would be disregarded based on isolated procedural irregularities that have been redressed – thus disenfranchising potentially thousands of voters – is misguided,” he wrote.
Mundy wrote the issue was simple: the Trump campaign wanted the ability to observe ballots being tallied “in a meaningful way, that would allow the campaign to determine whether the board was following legal processing procedures.” The lower court’s order did just that, Mundy wrote.
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