Trump campaign threatens to sue over Philly election offices

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President Donald Trump speaks during the first presidential debate with Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s campaign has threatened a lawsuit by Wednesday afternoon if it does not gain access soon for its campaign officials to observe activity inside newly opened satellite election offices in Philadelphia, where people can register to vote, apply for mail-in ballots and fill them out.

A letter, sent late Tuesday night by a lawyer representing the Trump campaign, insisted the campaign has a legal right to observe the voting process in the heavily Democratic city’s satellite election offices.

“If we have not satisfactorily resolved this matter by tomorrow at 5 p.m., the campaign will seek court intervention,” the lawyer, Linda Kerns, wrote.

Election lawyers say there is no right under Pennsylvania law, even for a certified poll watcher, to observe inside an election office where someone is registering to vote, applying for a mail-in ballot or filling one out.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s top elections official, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, echoed that stance Wednesday. She said Trump campaign claims about a legal right are “absolutely inaccurate.” Philadelphia city election officials did not immediately respond to messages Wednesday.

Trump retweeted claims on Twitter on Tuesday by his son Eric and a campaign staffer that Trump campaign employees were being “blocked” or “kicked out” of Philadelphia’s newly opened satellite offices.

In Tuesday night’s presidential debate with Democratic presidential nominee, Trump repeated that claim, as he urged his supporters to serve as poll watchers. The president also said he would not go along with an election result if he sees “tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated.”

“Bad things happen in Philadelphia, bad things,” he said.

Meanwhile, Wednesday, state House Republican lawmakers began advancing a just-introduced resolution to independently set up a committee with subpoena power to investigate how the election is being conducted.

As part of his long-running effort to discredit voting by mail and cast doubt on any election result that goes against him, Trump told a rally at Harrisburg International Airport on Saturday night that the only way he can lose Pennsylvania is if Democrats cheat.

“They’re going to try to steal the election. … The only they way to win Pennsylvania frankly is to cheat on the ballots,” Trump said.

Trump has targeted Philadelphia before.

In his 2016 campaign, Trump claimed that the only way he could lose Pennsylvania is if there is “cheating,” and, during an October campaign stop in the state, he singled out Philadelphia as a city to watch.

Trump won Pennsylvania by about 44,000 votes, or less than 1 percentage point, but he lost Philadelphia to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 67 percentage points, or about 475,000 votes.

Poll watching is already being litigated by the Trump campaign, which has sued in federal court to invalidate a provision in state law that limits poll watchers to residents of that county. Republican lawmakers also have pushed to remove the provision from law, both in 2016 and 2020.

Wolf in 2016 threatened to veto the bill and opposes removing the county residency requirement now, his office said.

Democrats say efforts to end the county residency requirement are part of the Trump campaign’s wider strategy of voter intimidation and suppression by targeting polling places and mail-in ballots in Philadelphia and other heavily Democratic areas.

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