HARRISBURG, Pa. - A federal judge in Pennsylvania on Sunday put a high-profile election case on hold, telling President Donald Trump's campaign that its claims must wait, at least until October, for state courts in the presidential battleground to clear up crucial fights, including over collecting and counting mail-in ballots.
U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan put the case on hold until Oct. 5 to see whether state courts decide, or at least narrow, the issues raised by Trump's campaign and the national Republican Party.
Opponents had argued that Ranjan should dismiss the case under a U.S. Supreme Court precedent that matters of state law should be left to state courts to interpret.
“At its heart, the Trump campaign’s lawsuit is an attempt to make it more difficult for people in Pennsylvania to vote safely during the pandemic,” said Witold J. Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which along with election officials across Pennsylvania is a party to the case. "We and our clients want to be sure that every eligible voter has the chance to vote safely in this election, whether they vote by mail or in person at the polls.”
In its lawsuit, filed in June, Trump's campaign claims the state's election officials had "chosen a path that jeopardizes election security and will lead — and has already led — to the disenfranchisement of voters, questions about the accuracy of election results, and ultimately chaos” ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.
“The federal court is simply going to reserve its judgment on this in the hopes that the state court will resolve these serious issues and guarantee that every Pennsylvanian has their vote counted—once,” Justin Clark, a Trump campaign deputy campaign manager, said in a statement.
After Oct. 5, parties can ask Ranjan to resume claims in the case.
Ranjan is a Trump appointee. State courts, where Democrats hold a 5-2 majority on the state Supreme Court, could be less friendly territory for Trump’s campaign.
One claim in Trump's lawsuit, filed in June, seeks to outlaw drop boxes or other collection sites that some counties used in the June 2 primary to help gather a record-smashing number of mail-in ballots. Those drop boxes were used especially by Philadelphia and its heavily populated suburbs in the primary — places where Trump lost badly.
Trump's campaign also wants to stop counties from counting ballots that lack secrecy envelopes — Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's administration advised counties to count them — and it also wants to throw out a state law that restricts poll watchers to county residents.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party filed a lawsuit in state courts that takes the opposite position on those issues. Last week, Wolf's administration, in a nod to the urgency of the matter with the election less than two months away, asked the state Supreme Court to use its extraordinary authority to take over the lawsuit.
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