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A federal lawsuit threatens to undermine Pa.'s 2024 election

A man in a suit stands at a podium.
Senate Television
Bruce Castor, formerly President Donald Trump’s impeachment lawyer, shown here in 2021, is the attorney for petitioners who allege Pennsylvania failed to meet federal elections standards in 2022.

A federal lawsuit aimed at Pennsylvania’s voting system threatens to undermine the 2024 election long before a ballot has been cast.

The Missouri-based United Sovereign Americans, alongside a trio of Chester County and Delaware County voters, alleges Pennsylvania failed to meet federal elections standards in 2022 and that those mistakes could be repeated in the upcoming cycle.

Bruce Castor Jr., attorney for the petitioners, said Pennsylvania is surpassing the “error rates” allowed under federal law.

“The whole idea here is to ask the federal court to order the various people who are responsible for enforcing election laws to see that the 2024 and subsequent federal elections are followed out within congressionally mandated guidelines,” Castor said.

The petitioners in the lawsuit, which was first reported by LancasterOnline, used their own calculation to determine their conclusions — a calculation that legal experts have deemed unreliable.

“It relies on their own data analysis, which has been shown — the analysis of these particular plaintiffs — to be completely faulty and discredited,” said Marian Schneider, senior policy counsel for voting rights with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

She said the complaint demonstrates a “complete lack of understanding” of the federal statute and that “it’s attempting to undermine the 2024 election before it happens.”

“People are setting up this characterization of Pennsylvania election administration that they can point to after they don’t get the result they want in November, and that really upends the tradition of democracy in our country,” Schneider said.

The Pennsylvania Department of State is one of nine defendants listed in the legal complaint. Matt Heckel, spokesperson for the Department of State, categorized the lawsuit as unmerited.

“A review shows it to be a frivolous action alleging, without any supporting facts or viable legal theories, a panoply of conspiracy claims advanced by litigants who have repeatedly filed baseless actions rejected by the courts,” Heckel said. “Undeterred, these litigants and their counsel continue to waste taxpayer money.”

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Pa. on pace to spend more on election litigation than each of the previous two years

The legal complaint from United Sovereign Americans is just the latest in a deluge of unfounded election cases seeking to question the integrity of elections across the country.

According to Department of State data, the agency is already on pace to spend more than $1,000,000 on outside counsel alone defending against election-related litigation, as officials have to retain more lawyers.

A fiscal breakdown on Department of State costs for outside counsel on election-related litigation from 2020–21 through 2023–24

  •     Fiscal year 2023–24 (invoices received as of April 30, 2024): $589,999.69
  •     Fiscal year 2022–23: $889,981.64
  •     Fiscal year 2021–22: $1,190,545.41
  •     Fiscal year 2020–21: $2,998,393.14

Heckel said, “These figures do not include the costs for the time of the department’s own internal counsel and other department employees.”

“Even frivolous lawsuits have to be defended,” Schneider said.

Castor previously worked as a Montgomery County commissioner and district attorney and served a brief stint as acting Attorney General of Pennsylvania. He said his case is not like previous election-related lawsuits.

“At what point do we have a sufficient number of errors in the election where we know longer are happy with the reliability of the election in general? If I buy a mechanical watch and it runs a couple of seconds slow or fast each day, I think it’s an engineering marvel,” Castor said. “If it runs five minutes slower fast every day, I send it back. The reason is it’s no longer reliable.”

But while he said his case is unique now, it might not be for long.

“I wrote the lawsuit in such a way that could be used as a template for other states by plugging in the numbers provided by their individual election officials and thereby doing their own analysis on whether the 2022 election had exceeded the number of errors allowed,” Castor said.

Outside of United Sovereign Americans, the three individual petitioners listed in the case are Dean Dreibelbis, Diane Houser and Ruth Moton. Both Dreibelbis and Moton, a former GOP state House candidate, have filed suits against Delaware County election officials in recent years, demanding recounts and alleging fraud.

“Delaware County has been forced to defend 20 lawsuits since 2020 which allege in some form or fashion that an election was ‘rigged’ or that the voting process in Delaware County is not secure,” a county spokesperson said. “In each instance, courts at all levels have uniformly concluded that the claims in those cases were without merit.”

In one case regarding the 2022 general election, a judge held a nine-hour evidentiary hearing on the plaintiff’s claims and concluded they were baseless, the spokesperson said.

All of that winning in Delaware County, however, has come at a cost to taxpayers.

Read more from our partners, WHYY.