October 01, 2020
President Donald Trump's campaign is prepared to file a lawsuit against the City Commissioners unless registered poll watchers are permitted to observe the voting process inside Philadelphia's new satellite election offices.
In a letter obtained by WHYY, Philly-based lawyer Linda Kerns accused the commissioners of denying the Trump campaign the right to have poll watchers monitor the casting of ballots. The three commissioners – two Democrats and one Republican – are responsible for overseeing elections in Philly.
"Free and fair elections require transparency and accountability," wrote Kerns, who is representing the Trump campaign. "All voters deserve as much."
Registered poll watchers appeared at several satellite offices Tuesday, but they were denied access by election officials, Kerns wrote.
Arguing that the satellite offices constitute polling places, the campaign said its poll monitors should have full access to these taxpayer-funded locations.
"No one questions that Philadelphians are voting at these locations," Kearns wrote. "Accordingly, the denial to the campaign of watchers lacks any rational basis and deprives the campaign of its right to monitor the process."
The city commissioners did not immediately respond to PhillyVoice for comment.
Pennsylvania law allows political campaigns and parties to appoint poll watchers per precinct, where they are allowed to observe voting and potentially raise legal challenges. Poll watchers must have a certificate verifying their status and be registered to vote in the county where they are observing.
During Tuesday's presidential debate against Joe Biden, Trump claimed that poll watchers had been blocked from observing the voting process in Philly. Trump also made the claim on Twitter, where he has attempted to cast mail-in voting as fraudulent.
However, Philadelphia officials reportedly have not have yet issued any certificates to poll watchers from the Trump campaign.
According to WHYY, the commissioners contend that the seven satellite election offices are not polling places and, therefore, poll watchers have no rights to be there.
"It is a temporary election office where services are made available to citizens who would like to register to vote or request their mail-in ballot," Commissioner Lisa Deeley told WHYY. "They can vote their mail-in ballot there or they can take it home and vote it at their dining room table."
In one case, a woman claiming to be a Trump poll watcher was prevented from entering the satellite office at Overbrook Elementary School. She told the Inquirer that she had been "hired by the Trump campaign to oversee the integrity of the election" but did not present a certificate identifying her as a poll watcher.
The seven satellite election offices allow residents to register to vote and request and submit a mail-in ballot – all in one visit. Voters also are able to drop off completed ballots ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes could decide the presidential election. A FiveThirtyEight analysis found Pennsylvania may be the country's most important swing state. If Trump wins Pennsylvania, he has an 84% chance of being re-elected. If Biden is victorious, he has a 96% chance of winning the presidency.
Polling indicates that the race for Pennsylvania will be close. Biden currently leads Trump by an average of 5.7 points in the state, according to Real Clear Politics. In a recent NBC News/Marist College poll of likely voters, Biden leads Trump by 28 points in the Philly suburbs.
Trump won Pennsylvania by less than 1% over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, becoming the first GOP presidential candidate to win the state since George H.W. Bush in 1988.