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Republicans Challenge Small Number Of Allegheny County Mail-In Voters

Matt Slocum

Donald Trump’s campaign and Allegheny County Republicans challenged the eligibility of some 237 applications for mail-in ballots on Friday, barely meeting a 5 p.m. deadline for such a filing.

The filings with the county Board of Elections – complete with $2,370 to cover a $10 fee for each challenge – were lodged by the Republican Committee of Allegheny County. But all indications are that the impetus for the filing came from the Trump campaign. A campaign volunteer named John Walsh sent the county a communication asserting that “the challenge individuals’ voter ID numbers do not appear on the Commonweatlh’s publicly available close of business voter file, suggesting that the challenged individual mayn’t be registered Pennsylvania electors.”

The challenges concerns the applications for ballots, not the ballots themselves -- though it would result in the sequestering of any ballots that had been cast by the voter in question. It is not clear how many ballots were sent in by the voters whose eligibility was challenged.

In a statement, county committee chair Sam DeMarco echoed the Trump campaign’s concerns about voter ID number mismatches.

“The RCAC remains committed to ensuring that all voters follow the law and supports all legally eligible voters casting one ballot,” he said.

There are a number of reasons, short of fraud, why a ballot application’s voter ID number would not appear on a state database. Voters could have moved out of state or died between the time they filled out an application and the time a ballot was sent, for example. That could be especially likely in the case of voters who, when filling out their applications for the June 2 primary, indicated they wanted future ballots to be sent automatically.

Democrats have worried that the GOP would seek to disrupt the election through spurious challenges and use the confusion to declare victory. But the number of challenges is vanishingly small – about 6/100th of 1 percent of the total mail-in ballots requested from the county – and Republicans filed no challenges whatsoever against the 1.2 million requests made in heavily Democratic Philadelphia County.

By law, the county Board of Elections is required to hold a hearing on the challenges within one week of Friday's filing deadline. That would require the board to adjudicate the 237 challenges in an election week that already promises to be frantic. Voters are supposed to be notified that their eligibility has been challenged, though obviously that would be difficult in the case of voters who had died.  

The idea of ballots being coast by dead people may sound ready-made for a Donald Trump tweet questioning the legitimacy of the election. But the 2019 state law which enabled mail-in voting foresaw just such problems. It says “Whenever it shall appear by due proof that any absentee elector or mail-in elector who has returned his ballot in accordance with the provisions of this act has died prior to the opening of the polls ... the ballot of such deceased elector shall be rejected."

Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph James, who typically handles election-related litigation, will hold a status conference on the challenges Monday afternoon.