In a push for access to newly opened satellite election offices in Philadelphia, President Donald Trump's campaign threatened to sue the city.
The offices opened Tuesday and allow people to register to vote, apply for mail-in ballots and fill them out, all in the same visit. But they are not considered polling places where poll watchers are traditionally stationed, and those poll watchers typically only come out on election day after receiving a credential from elections officials.
A letter, sent late Tuesday night by a lawyer representing the campaign, insisted that 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.
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Election lawyers say there is no right in 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, echoed that stance Wednesday, saying Trump campaign claims about a legal right are “completely inaccurate.”
"There was some disinformation that was put out last night," Boockvar said, referring to comments Trump made in Tuesday night's presidential debate against Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
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(In the debate, Trump claimed poll watchers affiliated with his campaign were "thrown out" of the satellite offices.)
"First of all, there are no poll watchers yet," Boockvar said. "Those are officially appointed usually a few days before Election Day, and they literally don't exist now. Second, they don't have any right to be present in county elections offices. Once appointed, poll watchers and party representatives have certain specified rights in the polling places on Election Day, as well as certain rights around the count."
"Poll watchers have no rights to come into our house and sit at our kitchen table while we vote, nor do they have the ability to go into county elections offices to watch people vote," Boockvar added, quoting Republican Philly City Commissioner Al Schmidt.
"Some of this is in litigation," said Deputy Secretary of State Jonathan Marks, before explaining what a poll watcher can do.
Parties and candidates are allowed to appoint watchers who can observe their polling place where they live, or another polling place in that county.
But the process requires credentials from the counties, Marks said.
"The election code doesn't necessarily define what the credentials look like, but in most counties, when a candidate or political party submits a request, they'll submit a list of individuals that they want to have watcher certificates," Marks said.
Then the county issues a formal certificate, usually on letterhead, that will have the name of the poll watcher who was registered with the county. Poll workers inside a polling place are trained to accept those credentials and let registered poll watchers do their job, Marks added.
The officials said a county satellite office is not a polling place.
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 the newly opened satellite election offices in Philadelphia.
The election season has been litigious. Several matters were caught up in the state Supreme Court this month before rulings were issued. Other matters are still moving through the court. Litigation has included third parties on the ballot, mail-in voting and the latest possible day states can receive ballots.
And in federal court, a group of Republican state legislators and other party-affiliated people filed suit in an attempt to block the spending of grant money.
Philly received $10 million from the Center for Tech and Civic Life to help establish the satellite elections offices, pay for cleaning supplies and help recruit poll workers.