Chalk up five more losses for Team Trump in Pennsylvania, where the campaign had to reverse the state’s election in any legal scenario for a successful election challenge. In all five cases, the state supreme court ruled that the irregularities in the ballots cited by the campaign did not amount to the kind of widespread election fraud that would justify tossing out an entire election. However, clean-election advocates might take some comfort in the dissents — even if Team Trump won’t find much to cheer there either:
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Monday issued opinions rejecting five lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign aimed at invalidating 8,329 ballots cast in the 2020 presidential contest over technical concerns.
Three justices wrote in the majority that, “no allegations of fraud or illegality” came up in examination of the ballots.
“Failures to include a handwritten name, address or date in the voter declaration on the back of the outer envelope, while constituting technical violations of the Election Code, do not warrant the wholesale disenfranchisement of thousands of Pennsylvania voters,” Justice Christine L. Donohue wrote for the majority.
The court also threw out a similar challenge in Allegheny, one involving a little over 2300 ballots. In all, only 10,678 ballots were in question … in a state where Joe Biden topped Donald Trump by almost 81,000 votes. Even if the state supreme court had thrown out these ballots in all five cases, Biden would still lead by 70,000 votes.
The decision to keep the ballots was unanimous, as the dissenters also argued against throwing the ballots out — at least in this election. Four justices dissented in part to underscore that these ballots did have irregularities, and that the state legislature needed to address those issues before the next election. While these ballots should count now, the justices strongly hinted that the statutes need review and revision to give better direction to the counties about ballot operations:
In a second concurring, dissenting opinion, Justice Kevin M. Dougherty, joined by Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor and Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy, wrote that the justices agreed the deficient ballots should be counted this year and that ballots missing “fill out” information, such as printed name or address, should not be voided due to technical faults. However, Justice Dougherty noted that “the terms “date” and “sign” — which were included by the legislature — are self-evident,” and that they “do not view the absence of a date as a mere technical insufficiency we may overlook.”
So the challenge has served at least one purpose — highlighting ambiguities and arbitrary policies in the various counties. That’s a matter for the state to clean up later, but it’s not a reason to throw out an entire election. Unfortunately for the Trump campaign, that’s precisely how its legal team insisted on fighting this in court and in public, and now they’re left with egg on their faces … again.
ABC News notes that Trump’s A-team hasn’t been involved in the post-election challenges, and it shows:
Trump’s lead attorney, Jay Sekulow, has been a fixture throughout the Mueller investigation, the impeachment inquiry and trial against the president, and the two cases seeking the president’s financial records brought by House Democrats and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
Along with Sekulow, Trump has relied on Marty and Jane Raskin, two longtime federal prosecutors who assisted Sekulow with each of these probes. But neither Sekulow nor the Raskins have been involved in the 2020 election dispute. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, another close ally, has also stayed away. Sources close to that veteran team say all of them assessed early on that the effort to challenge the election lacked legal merit.
“What we said was, it would be a Herculean effort and every domino would have to line up and fall in place,” said one source familiar with those early discussions. “Not a likely result.”
As a result, what we have seen from Trump’s legal team are bad legal arguments made in public, and political arguments made in court. That resulted in the rebuke from Judge Matthew Brann over the weekend on their explicit effort to block the state from certifying the election. The Third Circuit will hear an appeal on that today, but only regarding Brann’s decision to dismiss it with prejudice rather than allow the campaign to file a third version of the same lawsuit. A win there is also “not a likely result.”
Team Trump can appeal the decisions in these five cases in federal court, but there’s not going to be much point to that, either. Even if they win on appeal, all they can possibly get is throwing out those specific ballots, which means Joe Biden still leads by 70K-plus votes. Better to take the moral victory of “at least we highlighted some problems” rather than chase that rabbit down the hole again.