poll watcher

Judge Rejects Trump's Suit Over Philly Satellite Elections Offices

The offices are not polling places, so poll watchers can't be present, the judge says.

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In a debate with Democratic candidate Joe Biden late last month, President Donald Trump criticized Philly's satellite elections offices, saying "bad things happen in Philadelphia."

Without details or evidence, Trump insinuated that something could be amiss with the vote count or process at the satellite offices.

Seven of those satellite offices opened Sept. 29, and one more opened this week. A ninth will open Oct. 13 and more could be added before Election Day on Nov. 3 - the city is hiring 100 clerical workers to staff those future locations.

In the Sept. 29 debate and later on Twitter, Trump mentioned a "poll watcher" affiliated with his campaign who was turned away from observing inside the satellite offices.

The campaign objected. Then it went to court.

Now a judge has sided with Philly and the state of Pennsylvania, saying that poll watchers have no guaranteed right to be present at an elections offices.

Judge Gary Glazer wrote that the election code does not address the concept of satellite offices. "So the Campaign must shoehorn its argument into one of the six above enumerated rights of watchers," Glazer wrote. (Those rights are described more fully at the bottom of this article.)

But, countering the Trump campaign's point, the satellite offices are not "polling places" under the law. Polling places in the city are defined as the room provided for each election district to vote. Since the satellite offices serve the entire city and not just one ward or district, they're not polling places, Glazer wrote.

"For this court to read into the Election Code the right of watchers to be present in Board of Elections' offices, which the Legislature did not expressly provide, would be the worst sort of judicial activism," Glazer wrote. "This court will not engage in such improper conduct, which would be a clear usurpation of the legislative function."

The Trump campaign was invited to tour the satellite offices but hasn't yet accepted the offer, Glazer wrote.

"The court suggests that the Campaign do so."

More details about the tour offer were unavailable late Friday.

Poll Watchers: What's Allowed?

According to Glazer's opinion, poll watchers in Pennsylvania are allowed to do the following:

  • Be present in the polling place, beginning when the election officials meet in the morning (even before the polling place is open) and until the vote counting is complete.
  • While allowed in the polling place, keep a list of voters and challenge any person applying to vote, asking for proof of their qualifications.
  • Under certain conditions, check the voter checklist to see who has or hasn't voted.
  • Represent the party at any public sessions of the county board of elections, at any computation or canvassing of returns, or any recount or recanvass of voting machines.
  • Examine any ballots at a recount or recanvass of a voting machine, and raise objections.
  • To be present when official absentee and mail-in ballots are opened, counted and recorded.

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