Top Pennsylvania Court Fast-Tracks Suit Over Ballots With Envelope Issues

Hector Lugatero, of York, Pa., an Immigrant from Michoacan, Mexico, demonstrates outside the Pennsylvania State Capitol to urge that all votes be counted, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Harrisburg, Pa., following Tuesday’s election. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to sort out the dispute over some Philadelphia ballots that were mailed in with some information missing from the envelope.

Leaping over an intermediate appeal that had been scheduled for arguments Thursday, the high court will consider whether the Philadelphia Board of Elections can count the roughly 8,300 mail-in ballots that voters submitted with technical issues. All the ballots were signed and mailed before or on Election Day, but with errors on the envelopes, such as omissions of dates, addresses or names.

Even if the Trump campaign gets them excluded, they are unlikely to alter the outcome of the election where Democratic candidate Joe Biden led by a margin of about 80,000 votes. Pennsylvania’s deadline to certify its election results is Nov. 23.

President Donald Trump is appealing after Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge James Crumlish ruled last week that the instructions for voters to fill out the envelopes were ambiguous.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has a 5-2 Democratic majority, and the court appeared split on party lines Wednesday in the decision to intervene.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Saylor and Justice Sallie Mundy, both Republicans, dissented without comment.

Philadelphia City Solicitor Marcel Pratt said Wednesday the city was glad the court took the case.

“We look forward to the court’s attention to this matter and will vigorously defend the Philadelphia County Board of Election’s decision to count the mail in ballots at issue against the Trump Campaign’s continued efforts to disenfranchise voters in Philadelphia,” Pratt said in a statement.

Trump campaign attorney Linda Kerns did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.

The campaign has initiated multiple lawsuits over the 2020 election results, including a separate battle that saw Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani making his first court appearance in about 20 years.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann issued an order Wednesday that says there will be no need for the parties to hold an evidentiary hearing originally scheduled for Thursday. During proceedings Tuesday in Williamsburg, Giuliani appeared confused about which judge was presiding over the case; could not come up with the name of his opposing counsel; and otherwise lobbed bumbling, unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud, at one point saying that more than a million ballots should be tossed as they were cast by mail and therefore without oversight. 

Judge Brann, an Obama appointee, had to correct him at another point when Giuliani incorrectly defined “opacity.” “Big words, your honor,” the former New York City mayor replied.

That hearing Tuesday coincided with a 5-2 loss that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court handed the Trump campaign over how election observers were kept about 15-18 feet away from the ballot-counting process in Philadelphia.

The campaign did prevail in another of its Pennsylvania lawsuits where it challenged some mail-in ballots from voters who were supposed to follow up with proof of ID. Those ballots were never included as part of Pennsylvania’s tallies.

On Wednesday, the Trump campaign wrote to Judge Brann that it will soon seek leave to amend its complaint, which had previously alleged a violation of the equal protection clause, claiming 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.

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