Group Led By Stephen Miller, Mark Meadows Sues Lehigh Co. Over Ballot Boxes

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By Robert H. Orenstein

A legal advocacy group led by former high-ranking members of the Trump administration has sued Lehigh County election officials to ensure deposit ballot boxes are used properly.

The lawsuit asks the Lehigh County Court to order officials to follow state law and ensure that a person casts only one ballot unless authorized to cast one. another to someone else. The county should do this, the suit says, by stationing people to monitor activity at its five ballot boxes.

The lawsuit cites County District Attorney Jim Martin’s investigation earlier this year which determined, based on CCTV, that at least 288 people cast multiple ballots in the November 2021 election. investigation was prompted by a complaint from the Lehigh County Republican Committee. Three weeks before the May 17 primary, Martin, a Republican, announced he would deploy county detectives and video surveillance of five ballot box locations to ensure people do not cast more than one ballot without permission. .

The court filing mentioned that Martin’s action “achieved its objective as there were no reported instances of third party ballot delivery.” Martin did not respond Friday to a request for comment on the accuracy of the trial statement.

America First Legal Foundation — led by Stephen Miller, President Trump’s senior White House adviser, and Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff — filed the lawsuit Sept. 1 on behalf of four county voters, Sean Gill, Robert Smith , Tim Ramos and Jackie Rivera, all of Allentown.

The defendants are the county election committee, made up of county executive Phillips Armstrong, Jennifer Allen and Dennis Nemes. The other defendants are Timothy Benyo, the county’s top election official and chief election committee clerk, and Diane Gordian, deputy chief council clerk. Benyo said he could not comment on ongoing litigation. Armstrong did not respond to a request for comment.

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In a statement posted on the group’s website, Miller, chairman of the foundation, said, “As a civil rights organization, America First Legal is committed to fighting for free, fair, and safe elections in America. Electoral integrity is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy. The illegal drop box system in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania violates state law – undermining the right to vote of legitimate citizen voters.

The America First Legal Foundation did not respond to a question about why it chose to file a lawsuit against Lehigh County when many other counties in Pennsylvania also use ballot boxes.

The group asked the court to order that:

  • Boxes should be placed inside a building and accessible only during normal weekday working hours. (Only one of five drop-off locations, in the Lehigh County Government Center in Allentown, is available 24/7.)
  • The boxes must be supervised by people to ensure that the law is respected.
  • The county election committee will not count spoiled and invalid ballots in all future elections.

Lehigh County Court has scheduled a hearing for the case for 9:30 a.m. Monday.

Democracy Docket, a voting rights group that first reported the lawsuit, also said the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans filed a motion to intervene in the case and oppose the lawsuit.

In 2019, a new state law, passed by a Republican-controlled legislature, extended no-excuse mail-in voting to all registered voters. This option was first used in the April 2020 presidential primary in Pennsylvania. Some counties have also set up secure boxes at different locations — usually local government offices — so people can drop off their ballots rather than mail them in.

The law requires people to hand in only one ballot, unless authorized. This could result in fines and penalties not exceeding $2,500 or imprisonment for up to two years,

Republican state lawmakers, many of whom voted in favor of the law, have since sought to invalidate mail-in voting after the 2020 presidential election when Trump claimed, despite evidence to the contrary, that it was him, and not Joe Biden, who had won the state and his Electoral College critical votes.

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Democrats tend to use mail-in ballots much more often than Republicans. In the May 17 primary, for example, Democrats accounted for about three-quarters of the mail-in ballots, according to state statistics.

Martin’s decision to monitor the ballot boxes in the primary was denounced by acting Commonwealth Secretary Leigh Chapman and 21 advocacy groups, including the ACLU.

Chapman wrote to Martin that while she also wants election laws to be upheld, her plans “could have the effect of intimidating eligible voters and deterring their authorized agents from voting legally.”

At the time, Martin said people should follow the law and his detectives would not intimidate any voters.

This is the second high-profile lawsuit involving the county election committee and the ballots. In a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court this spring, Lehigh County judicial nominee David Ritter tried to block the counting of mail-in ballots when voters did not date stamped on the outer envelope of the ballot, as required by state law.

The 257 ballots in question were received in time for the November 2021 election. A federal appeals court ruled that the omission of the date was a minor oversight and should not invalidate the ballots. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, clearing the way for the county election commission in June – seven months after the election – to count those undated ballots. Ritter saw his 71-vote lead in the race for a third seat in the field evaporate as Zachary Cohen won by five votes. In July, Ritter asked the Supreme Court to review the appeals court’s decision. The court did not decide whether to consider the claim.

Robert H. Orenstein is a reporter for Armchair Lehigh Valley, a political newsletter, where this story first appeared.

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