Pennsylvania judge permits campaign observers up-close view of ballot count after Trump complaint

A Pennsylvania judge made the decision after a Trump team complaint.

November 5, 2020, 11:57 AM

A Pennsylvania judge has granted the Trump campaign’s request to observe -- up-close -- Philadelphia poll workers as they process the remaining mail-in ballots, overturning earlier rules that kept them further back out of concern about the coronavirus.

Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon reversed a lower court decision, and concluded that “all candidates, watchers, or candidate representatives be permitted to be present for the canvassing process … and be permitted to observe all aspects of the canvassing process within 6 feet, while adhering to all COVID-19 protocols, including, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.”

Trump campaign officials hailed the decision, calling it a “massive” win “for every person who has casted a legal ballot in the state of Pennsylvania."

Biden campaign officials said they were puzzled by the lawsuit, one of several filed in Pennsylvania as elections officials have been grinding through counting hundreds of thousands of ballots since Tuesday.

“Massive victory? No. We don't care if your observers are 18 feet away or 15 feet away or 6 feet away -- as long as election officials can do their jobs,” one Biden official tweeted Thursday,” tweeted Biden spokesman Bill Russo.

The court decision is not expected to have any impact on the vote count, one Democratic attorney involved in the case told ABC News. Whether it will affect the count going forward will depend on the conduct of the observers, and whether they do anything to try and disrupt the process. The attorney said city officials were deliberating about whether or not to appeal.

The ruling appears to resolve, at least for the moment, one of several legal actions the Trump campaign has filed in Pennsylvania, where Trump and Biden appeared to be in a very close race. The Trump team argued that designated campaign observers were being forced to stand too far back as poll workers processed mail-in ballots.

The observers look to see if the mail-in ballots were submitted properly -- in a secrecy envelope, with no errant markings, and with a signature that matches the one elections officials have on file. By being kept at a distance, the Trump campaign argued they could not see the ballots.

Trump campaign representatives cited testimony from one Trump observer, attorney Jeremy Mercer, who said that he was “not able to discern whether, if there is a secrecy envelope, whether the secrecy envelope has any markings on it… [or] what, if anything, is being pulled out” because of his distance from the tables. Mail-in ballots can in some cases be rejected if there are errant identifying markings on the outer envelope.

The city of Philadelphia countered that a Philadelphia election court had already decided the case, which was based solely on Mercer’s account, and denied the Trump campaign’s complaint on Nov. 3. The city said it had the authority to position observers further back in order to ensure security and follow COVID-19 protocol, still following Pennsylvania statute.

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party, which also signed onto the lawsuit, agreed that it had already been decided on November 3rd and that Mercer, the sole observer, cannot make challenges regardless of what he sees.

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