State Attorneys Push Back on Pennsylvania Election Fraud Claims

An election worker canvases ballots in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Nov. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (CN) — President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani lobbed unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud before a Pennsylvania federal judge Tuesday, making arguments described as “disgraceful” by an attorney for a county elections board.  

In its voter fraud lawsuit filed last week in Harrisburg, the Trump campaign claimed  Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar carried out an “illegal ‘two-tiered’ voting system” that held voters to different standards depending on whether they voted by mail or in person.

The goal of the suit: an injunction that would stop Boockvar from certifying statewide results of the election. The last day for Pennsylvania county election boards to certify their results is next Monday, Nov. 23.

The case marks the Trump campaign’s last challenge in Pennsylvania that it hopes could get enough voters thrown out to put Trump’s vote tally within the recount margin of  President-elect Joe Biden’s tally. 

Biden beat Trump by roughly 74,000 votes in the Keystone State. To trigger a recount under state law, the president’s campaign would have to find enough votes to bring Trump within 0.5% of Biden’s vote count. The former vice president won by over a full percentage point, 49.9% to Trump’s 48.8%.

U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann, a Barack Obama appointee, heard arguments in the case in Williamsport on Tuesday. He clarified before the hearing began that the main claim Giuliani would be arguing was that the process of mail-in voting violated the equal protection clause. On Sunday, the Trump campaign filed an amendment complaint dropping claims about lack of meaningful access for observers watching the vote count.

“The best description of this situation is widespread, nationwide voter fraud,” Giuliani said, claiming without evidence that voter fraud became prevalent after the Covid-19 pandemic expanded mail-in voting. He said this especially happened in “big,” “corrupt” cities “controlled by Democrats,” taking aim at Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Giuliani also argued that about 1.5 million Pennsylvania ballots should be tossed because they were cast by mail without proper oversight, although he did not explain how he arrived at the number.

“Mailing in ballots is the largest source of voter fraud, I don’t think there’s any dispute about that,” Giuliani claimed.

But Pennsylvania’s attorney Daniel Donovan, retained from the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, begged to differ. He said the Trump campaign had failed to sufficiently allege voter fraud and lacked evidence that people were voting illegally.

“There is no claim in the complaint that any Pennsylvania voter cast more than one ballot,” the layer said, using an example of voter fraud that would fall under an equal protection claim.

The hearing’s live stream cut out in the middle of Donovan’s argument. The phone line, which had a limit of 4,000 listeners, was maxed out when arguments started.  

While court officials said they were “working feverishly to restore access,” the Pennsylvania Supreme Court handed a loss to the Trump campaign, ruling 5-2 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.

Taking the floor after the phone lines came back on, Mark Aronchick, counsel for the Allegheny County Board of Elections, argued that the Pennsylvania high court’s ruling obliterated Giuliani’s argument that observation of vote counting was a problem.

Further, he argued that there is no previous case law wherein a court found there was an equal protection claim violation based on something that made voting easier.

“This is just disgraceful,” Aronchick said, also blasting Giuliani’s request that Brann toss 1.5 million mail-in ballots.

“Dismiss this case,” Aronchick pleaded with the judge. “Please, dismiss this case.”

Attorney Elizabeth Dupuis, representing the Centre County Board of Elections, said her county did nothing wrong and live-streamed its vote counting online. She also asked the judge to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim.

Brann at one point asked Giuliani why he should consider claims of voter fraud on oral argument when those claims are absent from the amended complaint.

“Remember what I’m bound to look at,” he said, indicating he must rule on what is presented in the complaint.

Giuliani and Harrisburg-based attorney Marc Scaringi took over the Trump campaign’s case just hours before Tuesday’s hearing, after the three lawyers who had been on the case asked to withdraw Monday evening. They offered no reason except that the campaign would be “best served” without them. 

The Trump campaign has several other lawsuits proceeding in Pennsylvania. Last week, a Republican appellate judge sided with the campaign to nix uncounted mail-in ballots cast by voters who never followed up with proof of ID from the tally of Pennsylvania’s election votes. However, this did nothing to narrow the gap between Biden and Trump as at the time, none of these ballots had been included in the state’s count.  

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