HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS/AP) — President Donald Trump’s campaign has threatened a lawsuit by Wednesday afternoon if it does not gain access soon for its campaign officials to observe activity inside newly opened satellite election offices in Philadelphia, where people can register to vote, apply for mail-in ballots and fill them out. A letter, sent late Tuesday night by a lawyer representing the Trump campaign, insisted the campaign has a legal right to observe the voting process in the heavily Democratic city’s satellite election offices.
CBS News has obtained the following letter from counsel to Donald Trump’s campaign threatening legal action against Philadelphia. “The entire debacle that played out in Philadelphia today should concern everyone who promotes election integrity,” the campaign’s lawyer wrote. pic.twitter.com/i8CtdGvUjI
— Joe Holden (@JoeHoldenCBS3) September 30, 2020
“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.
Election lawyers say there is no right under 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.
The satellite centers are essential voter services locations and not official polls. They’re only accepting and processing mail-in ballots. Votes are not being cast on a machine, so that means anyone who’s not here to receive services are not permitted inside.
“The satellite offices are Board of Elections Offices that provide voter services to the residents of Philadelphia for mail-in ballots. Satellite offices are not polling places and poll watcher certificates have not been issued for any individuals for anything other than poll watching activities on Election Day at Polling Places. So individuals seeking to receive services from a satellite office are not permitted to be there for other purposes,” City Commissioner Al Schmidt said in a statement.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s top elections official, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, echoed that stance Wednesday. She said Trump campaign claims about a legal right are “absolutely inaccurate.”
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 Philadelphia’s newly opened satellite offices.
Does it shock anyone that poll watchers are being blocked and kicked out of voting locations in Philly? We are in court right now! This corruption must end! https://t.co/94d90P7KTW
— Eric Trump (@EricTrump) September 29, 2020
In Tuesday night’s presidential debate with Democratic presidential nominee, Trump repeated that claim, as he urged his supporters to serve as poll watchers. The president also said he would not go along with an election result if he sees “tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated.”
“As you know today, there was a big problem in Philadelphia. They went in to watch, they’re called poll watchers. They’re very safe, very nice thing. They were thrown out, they weren’t allowed to watch. You know why? ‘Cuz bad things happen in Philadelphia, bad things,” Trump said during the debate.
Meanwhile, Wednesday, state House Republican lawmakers began advancing a just-introduced resolution to independently set up a committee with subpoena power to investigate how the election is being conducted.
As part of his long-running effort to discredit voting by mail and cast doubt on any election result that goes against him, Trump told a rally at Harrisburg International Airport on Saturday night that the only way he can lose Pennsylvania is if Democrats cheat.
“They’re going to try to steal the election. … The only they way to win Pennsylvania frankly is to cheat on the ballots,” Trump said.
Trump has targeted Philadelphia before.
In his 2016 campaign, Trump claimed that the only way he could lose Pennsylvania is if there is “cheating,” and, during an October campaign stop in the state, he singled out Philadelphia as a city to watch.
Trump won Pennsylvania by about 44,000 votes, or less than 1 percentage point, but he lost Philadelphia to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 67 percentage points, or about 475,000 votes.
Poll watching is already being litigated by the Trump campaign, which has sued in federal court to invalidate a provision in state law that limits poll watchers to residents of that county. Republican lawmakers also have pushed to remove the provision from law, both in 2016 and 2020.
Wolf in 2016 threatened to veto the bill and opposes removing the county residency requirement now, his office said.
Democrats say efforts to end the county residency requirement are part of the Trump campaign’s wider strategy of voter intimidation and suppression by targeting polling places and mail-in ballots in Philadelphia and other heavily Democratic areas.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)